Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf falsely charged taxpayers over $280,000 they weren't entitled to, according to an audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Citing lax oversight, DiNapoli said providers charged taxpayers to cover a laundry list of undeserved expenses, including extra salaries, director benefits, maintenance, phone lines, copy machines, and more.
“As we have seen in numerous audits, providers are taking advantage of lax oversight of the state’s special education programs,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “The State Education Department (SED) needs to improve its oversight of these providers to ensure public monies are being spent properly."
Between 2008 and 2010, DiNapoli said Mill Neck charged $72,505 in personal services costs that did not comply with SED guidelines. $64,817 that should have come from another area of the organization were claimed for salaries paid to Executive Director Mark Prowatzke. In addition, $7,688 in vacation reimbursements were claimed but not paid to employees.
"Dr. Prowatzke leads a fine organization serving deaf and severely disabled individuals, both adults and children -- he's devoted his life to that," CFO William Charon defended to Newsday, adding that auditors failed to include Prowatzke's work with five other agencies connected to the school. According to Charon, 85 percent of Prowatze's time is spent at Mill Neck School for the Deaf alone.
Mill Neck, part of Mill Neck Family of Organizations, is one of many special education schools targeted for improper use of funds, according to DiNapoli. Some incidents have resulted in criminal referrals, felony arrests, and convictions. 30 special education contractors have been or are being audited at this time, according to the comptroller.
In addition to personal expenses, the school is accused of several other false claims, including $89,500 in depreciation expenses, $61,348 for unapproved vehicle costs after employees failed to properly log their usage, and costs either unsupported or unrelated to the program. Those included $11,934 in utilities, repairs, maintenance, and landscaping for the director's on-campus residence, $11,314 for staff development, travel, supplies, repairs, and late fees, $7,909 for a copy machine lease, and $7,409 in phone line costs.
DiNapoli has recommended the SED review inappropriate or unsupported expenses and recover them. Furthermore, he is asking the school to properly explain SED requirements to staff.