Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Department of Education paid private tutor firm $21M in 2 years, most of it in overhead

Juan Gonzalez, Daily News

Wednesday, March 4th 2009

In its drive to improve school reading and math test scores, the city's Department of Education paid a private company more than $21 million in two years to tutor thousands of public school pupils at home.

But most of that money - more than twice the amount the DOE originally budgeted - went for overhead, management and profit for the company, Champion Learning Center.

Champion got $79 an hour to tutor each pupil for up to four hours per week, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Daily News.

That adds up to almost $320 a week in tutoring costs per child.

Champion paid its part-time tutors, mostly college students with no teaching experience, an average of $17 an hour.

That's right. The company received an astounding $62 in overhead for every hour its employees spent tutoring a child.

Champion is one of dozens of private companies with state approval to provide tutoring services under the No Child Left Behind Act.

"We received very little training in our orientation," said one college student hired by Champion. "They just told us to follow the instructions in the test prep workbooks they gave us."

Champion hired the student and one of her friends at the same time. Both say they were offered only $15 per hour for their work. In addition, they were told they would have to pay transportation costs to each child's home and they were required to pay a $150 fee each for the cost of fingerprinting and a security check before they could start work.

The DOE's contract with Champion clearly states: "The Contractor shall be solely obligated to bear the costs of all security clearance procedures that involve fees or other costs for any and all persons and/or entities required to undergo such procedures."

Champion's idea of bearing those costs seems to be to pass them on to its employees.

When asked about the fee Tuesday, the company's chief executive, Abraham Sultan, said he did not charge employees, but then added, "It also depends on the situation."

Sultan declined to discuss exactly what his company receives from DOE or what he pays his employees.

"We work that out internally," Sultan said.

The firm, Sultan said, uses "a good group of certified teachers, people with master's degrees and doctorates looking for part-time work, and some college students."

Sultan said word of his company's "excellent performance" has "spread by word of mouth among parents" clamoring to get into his tutoring program.

David Cantor, spokesman for DOE, said Tuesday the department will be reviewing Champion's reports "to determine whether the costs have been properly represented."

"We are also looking at the alleged discrepancy involving payment to tutors," Cantor said.

"If we find that the contractor falsely represented its costs, we would take serious action."

The DOE's original contract with Champion was for $9.6 million over two years, but the company has received $21 million and that amount is expected to go higher by the end of the school year.

Cantor said each company recruits its students, and "actual student attendance [for Champion's program] has exceeded expectations."

This year alone, Champion claims to have tutored 8,600 pupils at home.

But until now, there has been little auditing of these tutorial programs under No Child Left Behind - including those run by Champion.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I think it is a good idea to offer a private tutor to those kids who may not be able to afford it. However, I am not so sure that so much extra money should be spent on the company though. That is money should be put back into the school system.