Sunday, April 14, 2013

contractor neglected and underserved kids and exploited incompetent and inattentive administrators


NYTimes | Cheon H. Park ran a company that had begun to prosper on government contracts, but he had bigger ambitions. So he tore down his shabby headquarters on a quiet street in Flushing, Queens, and replaced it with a lavish three-story building that had marble floors, granite countertops, red carpets and a soaring chandelier.

Then he brought in the clients: 3- and 4-year-olds with developmental disabilities.

Scores of them came each weekday, their parents lured by the attractive surroundings and the promises of state-of-the-art therapy. New York City and New York State paid for it all, from the expensive renovations to the services themselves, at a rate of as much as $98 an hour.

But many of the children entrusted to Mr. Park’s company did not get the care they needed, according to numerous interviews with workers and parents and an extensive analysis of government records.

Some children whose first language was Chinese languished in classes taught in Spanish or Korean. Others who were supposed to receive individual tutoring were thrown into groups of four or more children, all with different types of disabilities.

Some children did not have disabilities at all and were simply being used to generate billings, the interviews show.

“We had kids who were little rocket scientists being put in there — who could read and write at a third-grade level,” said Angel Tirado, a former aide to Mr. Park.

Mr. Park’s contracts were canceled by the city at the beginning of this school year after The New York Times questioned officials about his company.

But his success until then underscores how private contractors have taken advantage of this generously financed but poorly regulated segment of the special-education system, often called special ed pre-K, according to an investigation by The Times.

At Mr. Park’s company, the costs to treat these 3- and 4-year-olds were enormous. The government routinely spent more than $50,000 in a single year on services for one child, according to an analysis of billing records.

In all, that occurred 281 times from 2005 to 2012, the records show.

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