Nassau County's $115 million Preschool Special Education Program is inadequately overseen, says an audit by County Comptroller George Maragos.
"This program provides essential services to our preschool children [ages 3-5] with special needs," Maragos said in a statement. "It is critical for the [county's] Department of Health to continually look for greater efficiencies and improve oversight . . . to ensure that children receive the help they need to overcome early challenges while the taxpayers are protected."
The audit covered the period from July 2009 to June 2011. It recommended that the department increase its attendance at children's evaluations, noting that their representatives attended only 64 percent of meetings while neighboring counties covered at least 75 percent.
"Their attendance discourages the approval of inappropriate services," it said.
DOH spokeswoman Mary Ellen Laurain said that "when using the same formula and methodology as neighboring counties," Nassau has an equal percentage of attendance.
Auditors also said the health department should more often review service providers.
It noted that in 2009, the DOH had reviewed only three of 200 such providers that include all school districts and their subcontractors for the program. Maragos did note that earlier this year, the department officials said they had completed 17 more reviews since July 2011.Laurain said DOH now can review 10 percent of its providers annually and she knows of no municipality that can meet Maragos' goal.
She added that the Comptroller's Office also can audit these service providers, "which would increase the numbers of providers reviewed per year."
The audit also challenged the DOH to "better track and compare the program's administrative costs and call State attention to unusual fluctuations."
The audit revealed that preschool costs as a whole rose only 2 percent over five years, but local school districts' administrative costs for these programs rose 26 percent.
Laurain said "DOH has no . . . authorization to review or provide input of the cost submitted by school districts to New York State."