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Pleasant Valley loses $90,000 in student scholarships

Pleasant Valley school board candidates last week questioned the superintendent about a prestigious scholarship the district has lost.

Superintendent James Konrad said the Singer Family C&E Foundation Scholarship, which has been awarded for more than 20 years, provided $7,500 in financial assistance per year for four years to three Pleasant Valley High School seniors. This was a total of $30,000 per student or $90,000 in total.

The character-based scholarship was awarded to graduating seniors who show the qualities of compassion, perseverance in working to the best of ability, cooperative community spirit and integrity, according to a 2019 application for the scholarship. The foundation did not take into consideration class rank, achievements, test scores or financial need.

“Students who otherwise may not be highly visible are encouraged to apply. Past recipients represent a broad spectrum and are typically at a time of expanding potential,” the application stated.

Konrad said a guidance counselor at the high school was contacted by the Singer Family C&E Foundation on Feb. 3 to begin the application process and provided with an overview and timeline. The counselor replied to the email on Feb. 8 and explained that there had been a change in staff, and a team would be handling the applications this year.

The foundation responded that its board of trustees would need to review these changes before they could proceed.

On Feb. 28, the foundation said it would not proceed with the scholarship this year. The school district reached out to the foundation, and also spoke to a trustee on March 6.

“Although this is very unfortunate for our students for this school year, we will be working diligently with the foundation to make sure that we have this opportunity afforded to Pleasant Valley students in the future,” Konrad said.

During the public comment portion of the school board meeting, former school board President Donna Yozwiak said, “Scholarships are very, very important for our young people. The cost of education past high school is astronomical.”

Yozwiak, a school board candidate for the primary, said she was involved with the coordination of the Singer Family C&E Foundation Scholarship for Pleasant Valley High School before her retirement as a guidance counselor.

The scholarship started out as a $20,000 award and has grown by another $10,000 per student. It also has been awarded to sometimes as many as four students each year.

“I heard Dr. Konrad’s explanation, but as a board I challenge you to look into this. Why has this family left the district? We’re talking $90,000 that our students would have received this year,” Yozwiak said. “For more than 20 years, this family has been a dedicated, generous donor to our kids because Singer family children had direct ties with this district.”

John Gesiskie, a retired physical education teacher from Pleasant Valley and a candidate for the primary, said, “You allowed a long-term, experienced counselor to be moved from the high school. Once again, you put the strain on the students.”

In December, the school board approved in a 5-to-3 vote the district’s decision to move Alison Gimbi, a new guidance counselor at the middle school, to the high school, and Sherri Fallon, a long-term high school guidance counselor, to the middle school. Gimbi joined the school district in October.

“You have a senior class stressed out about college decisions with no one with a personal connection to them,” Gesiskie said.

In 2020, the Singer Family C&E Foundation had more than $4.9 million in assets and more than $1.8 million in revenue, according to the investigative journalism newsroom ProPublica.

The website, Grantmakers, reported that $268,750 in scholarships had been awarded in 2018 to students from Pleasant Valley, and Delaware Valley Regional and Phillipsburg, New Jersey high schools.

The foundation was created by the late Russell E. Singer and his wife, Hazel, of Topton and formerly of Milford, New Jersey. Members of their family are trustees of the Foundation.

An effort to contact the foundation was unsuccessful.