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Employees of Princeton Young Achievers Are Arrested for Unauthorized Purchases

Candace Braun

Two employees of Princeton Young Achievers, an after-school program for at-risk youths, were arrested and arraigned last week in connection with the purchase of $6,600 in computer equipment and office supplies on an unauthorized credit card account.

Nichelle Hill, 37, of Willingboro, the former executive director of PYA, and Beverly Harrington, 34, of Princeton, her assistant, left their positions prior to last Tuesday's arrests.

Ms. Hill was terminated by the PYA Board in early September, and Ms. Harrington left the organization several months before that, said Dr. Jean Grossman, president of the PYA Board. She would not confirm if Ms. Harrington was also terminated or on what grounds.

An investigation by the Princeton Township Police determined that the women were using an unauthorized Staples account to make personal purchases between the months of April and September. They have been charged with theft by deception and complicity.

Currently, Warren Schuster is serving as interim executive director of the program, said Dr. Grossman. Cheryl Kirton was hired as the new full-time, permanent assistant to replace Ms. Harrington in the beginning of the summer, she added.

Ms. Hill was hired as PYA's executive director last September. She had taken the position because of her interest in sending her son to the Princeton Schools, she told Town Topics at the time.

While PYA isn't supported in full by Princeton Regional Schools, the district contributes approximately $65,000 per year towards the $204,000 received by the organization, and houses the program in its building on Valley Road.

"We're very concerned about this situation. It's very serious and most unfortunate," said Jeffrey Graber, assistant superintendent and chair of the program committee for the school board.

"An organization dedicated to improving young children's lives," PYA began in 1993 as a partnership between Princeton Schools, two sponsors of affordable housing in Princeton, and concerned parents. Today the organization serves 140 elementary school children at three learning centers, and holds an annual multicultural summer camp.

PYA is one of several district-supported programs currently being examined by the school board because of bill S-1701, which was signed into law by then-Gov. James McGreevey in July. The bill requires school districts to reduce their budget surplus below three percent, allowing schools less leeway in case of unexpected emergencies, such as a lawsuit or unforeseen problems with construction.

Other programs that the district will examine include Spring Board, a tutoring program housed at the Princeton Public Library; Corner House, a counseling center for adolescents; and the district's all-day kindergarten program.

The Board is looking to hold a joint program and facilities committee meeting to address the bill in early December.

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