BOE approves new vice president


Matt Austin, Sarah Austin

The Board of Education approved Joe Blundo to be BOE Vice President during its Monday night meeting held in Pascack Valley’s cafeteria and virtually on Zoom. The BOE also discussed concerns over the mascot selection process.

In a unanimous vote, the Board of Education approved Joe Blundo to be BOE Vice President during its Monday night meeting held in Pascack Valley’s cafeteria and virtually on Zoom. This comes following the resignation of Montvale BOE member Janet Bissinger effective March 16, 2021.

“We have had quite a year, and I hope that we can find ways to work together on divisive issues,” Blundo said. “I would never ask any board member to not ask tough questions and follow up with what needs to be done, and I’m going to continue to do that.”

Following Bissinger’s resignation, there will be an advertisement on the PVRHSD website indicating what the criteria will be to find a replacement for the vacated Montvale BOE position.  

“There will be a deadline with regards to when residents may submit an application to serve on the Board of Education,” Gundersen said. “After that, the Board of Education will establish a meeting date and board members will interview interested candidates [publicly].”

Gundersen addressed and responded to a combined letter written by the mayors from Hillsdale, River Vale, Montvale, and Woodcliff Lake, claiming that the mascot was removed unjustly. In his response, Gundersen revealed that the two emails referenced in the combined letter written by the mayors were released five months ago. 

“When the Board of [Education] voted to adopt the new mascots, a private Facebook group began to circulate the two emails referenced by the mayors,” Gundersen said. “Those emails were made public five months ago, and the mayors decided to launch accusations against my administrative team after the board had just approved new mascots.”

Gundersen said the mayors never contacted him to clarify any aspect of the mascot selection process.

“There was never a phone call from any of the mayors to ask for perspective or [for] clarification,” Gundersen said. “They simply issued an email to the Board of Education, and shared that letter with the Pascack Press just hours before the deadline for what I believe [was] for maximum sensational impact.”

Gundersen continued to justify his actions, saying that the entire mascot removal and selection process was transparent.

“This has been a transparent and public process – a process that has been implemented with the support of the majority of the BOE members,” Gundersen said. “I ask, do we really need [to spend] more time, effort, and money looking for how many members of the public can attempt to discredit this process?” 

Gundersen said that a BOE attorney told him that “mayors have no legal authority to demand an investigation that should be authorized by this board of education.”

While the floor was open to public comments, Hillsdale Mayor John Ruocco said that “it didn’t matter” to him what the mascot was changed to, but he cared more about how the mascots were changed. Ruocco also went on to say that he doesn’t believe the BOE has achieved its goal of making all students feel comfortable speaking their minds. 

“The board itself became politically exposed,” Ruocco said. “The meeting where the decision was made [to retire the mascots] seemed to have been staged and [was] without regard for the views of a significant portion of students, alumni, and parents.”

Some community members expressed their support towards the BOE and their efforts to allow the student body to select its new mascot. 

“I never regret and never take for granted your service to this community, your efforts, and your support of all children in this community in the work that you have done in the school,” River Vale resident Shirell Gross said to Gundersen. “I’m saddened by [negative comments made directed towards Gundersens]but do know there are many parents who do support the efforts.”

Another River Vale resident, Jeanne Tamagny, showed her support for the mascot change and the importance of an inclusive future.

“Board of [Education] members, I imagine you are receiving much pushback about the decision, but many people in the district understand and agree with the courageous choice you made to push our district one step forward towards the goal of inclusivity and equity for all,” Tamagny said.

Other community members continued to express their opposition towards the mascot selection process during time allotted for public comments. 

“I feel the whole process was mismanaged,” River Vale resident Eli Moallem said. “I think the kids know it, the parents know it – I even think the board members know, [including the] ones that are trying to push it through.”

The BOE also discussed student involvement in creating new mascot logos. Gundersen assured the public that though every student with a mascot design idea won’t be on the Mascot Design Committee, all designs will be considered by the group.

“We have some very creative students who have already created ideas for what these logos should look like, and that is going to be the basis for the work that begins with the committee,” Gundersen said. “We have some creative students who are artistically inclined that [are] going to be a part of this process; if they’re not on [the committee], their ideas will be moved forward to the committee for consideration.”

Gundersen announced that staff members are in the process of getting COVID-19 vaccines. He also said that many remote staff members will be returning to in-class instruction after spring break. 

Almost all of our remote staff members will be returning after spring break to the classroom after being fully vaccinated,” Gundersen said. “Currently, we only have about 25 staff members who still need vaccination appointments. I’m encouraged to see our staff members becoming protected against the [coronavirus].”

The BOE also accepted the resignation of Maintenance Coordinator Sander Toth. His resignation will be effective April 19, 2021. 

“Mr. Toth has been instrumental in making sure that those HVAC systems are up and running. He worked tirelessly to make sure that [the systems] were working efficiently, and in a manner in which our students and staff would be comfortable in the building,” Gundersen said. “I want to thank him for his years of dedication to high school districts.”

Yani Orozco was approved as a part-time day custodian for PV, effective March 23, 2021. Sanja Jackson was also approved to become a temporary lead evening custodian, starting on March 23, and continuing through a date that is to be determined. Additionally, Nicholas Leal was approved to be a leave replacement for custodian Alexander Amar, starting on March 23 and continuing through a date that is to be determined.