BOE receives updates on mascot search process, district finances

The mascot search committee at Hills is nearing the conclusion of its work, with three choices soon to be selected for a school-wide vote.


Jared Mitovich

As has become the norm, the public Board meeting on Monday night echoed the “hybrid” nature of classes at Hills, with some participants opting to attend in-person and others virtually.

Graphic by Jared Mitovich

At their meeting on Monday night, the Pascack Valley Regional Board of Education received an update on the mascot search process and discussed the district’s financial standing.

According to sophomore member Jacob Levin, the student-led mascot search committee at Pascack Hills is nearing the conclusion of its work, with 38 potential mascot ideas narrowed down to five choices over the course of three meetings and multiple committee-wide polls.

The committee, which consists of 51 students and staff, has another meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 10, said freshman member Alexa Sipos. At this meeting, it will analyze the results of an additional survey to determine three choices to send for a school-wide vote sometime this month.

“We as a committee have emphasized the importance of having an accompanying rationale” for each choice, Levin explained. It is for this reason, said Sipos, that a slideshow explaining each option will be sent out to students and staff before the school-wide vote so they have “two or three days” to reflect on their preference and discuss among themselves.

For a mascot to be chosen, it has to receive over 50% of the school-wide vote. If no choice receives over 50%, the top two choices will go to a runoff election.

Pascack Valley senior Vasili Karalewich said that both his school and Hills “conceded” various names to one another due to an overlap in some of the choices each committee set forward. This agreement eliminated the chance that Hills and Valley could eventually choose the same mascot.

Board members were unanimous in their praise of the students but had questions about the committee’s role in determining the cost of the removal, echoing sentiments from a previous meeting, where members reignited the Cowboys and Indians debate. Gundersen clarified to the Trailblazer that neither Cowboys nor Indians could be considered by students due to the criteria set forward.

Covid-19 and required closure of the school caused for [an] overall decrease in revenue and expenditures.

— Luisa Rodriguez, Nisivoccia financial auditor for the district

In response to an inquiry from Board member Kristin Martin, Levin said “we were told very explicitly” that the committee was guided not to consider funding. However, Levin did say that students would be “happy” to engage and “show up” to fundraise should the Board request their involvement in financing the costs.

At the last Board meeting on Jan. 18, Superintendent Erik Gundersen said the current estimate for replacing all Cowboy branding at Hills is $31,000. It will cost an estimated $53,000 to replace athletic uniforms, and the replacement of the football end zone and wrestling mats are estimated at $75,000.

Graphic by Jared Mitovich

Covid-19 could help cover these costs, according to Board member and Finance Committee Chair Michael Fronte. According to financial auditors who delivered a presentation at tonight’s meeting, the district “remains very strong financially” with a surplus of $2.2 million. The pandemic caused an “overall decrease in revenue and expenditures” related to transportation, athletics, and co-curriculars.

The Board approved several Human Resources items, including the resignation of Glenn deMarrais as Valley’s principal at the end of the school year. DeMarrais, who was previously Hills’ principal, intended to retire last school year from the district, but decided to stay on for an additional year due to difficulties in the search process at Valley.

“I personally appreciate his additional leadership this year,” said Gundersen, who noted more events thanking deMarrais would occur closer to June.

Winter cheerleading, a non-competitive team that cheerleads at basketball games, was suspended by the Board at Gundersen’s recommendation, because there was “little to no interest.” According to Athletic Director Phil Paspalas, there was also little engagement with the idea of allowing Hills cheerleaders to play for Valley’s competitive team.

Paspalas is retiring at the end of this school year. He has overseen the mascot selection committee at Hills since the process was approved at a Board meeting in October. A search process for his replacement is being led by Assistant Superintendent Barry Bachenheimer, who along with a committee of four to eight members will consider a “diverse” range of candidates according to Gundersen.

Towards the conclusion of the meeting, several Board committees delivered updates on their recent meetings. Of note, the recently established Communications Committee determined that “every email” to the Board “does deserve a response.” However, some responses may be less individualized and instead point towards an FAQ if there is a lot of repetitiveness in inquiries.

Each Board member will have the opportunity to respond to an email sent to another Board member or to the Board as a whole, according to Board President Tammy Molinelli, but one individual member cannot speak on the entire Board’s behalf.

For Curriculum and Instruction, committee chair James Stankus said that, out of those who have been asked about an additional period by their guidance counselors, 60% of the Class of 2022 “indicated they would like a study hall” and 40% “would like an eighth class.” The numbers were similar for the Class of 2023. The committee will continue to discuss changes to the master schedule for the 2021-22 school year.