BOE adopts budget, approves resignation of superintendent

Administrators and Board of Education members thanked Superintendent Erik Gundersen for his 27 years at Pascack Valley Regional.


Briana Keenan

Debra Stephans is sworn in as a BOE member by Secretary Yas Usami.

At its meeting Monday night, the Pascack Valley Regional Board of Education approved the 2021-22 district budget and the resignation of Superintendent Erik Gundersen effective July 1. 

At the beginning of the meeting, newly-elected member Debra Stephans was sworn into the BOE by Yas Usami, BOE secretary and business administrator. She is filling the Montvale seat vacated by Janet Bissinger in March. 

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Gundersen gave his monthly report, and explained the different restrictions that have been and will be lifted for New Jersey by Governor Phil Murphy. “Some districts have returned in-person at full capacity, but this is because less than half of their students have chosen to be in-person at school. 85% of Hills students are in-person, which would not comply with social distancing guidelines [if we were at full capacity],” he explained. 

He also noted that the increase in outdoor capacity limits may impact prom and graduation for Pascack Hills students.

Aria Chalileh, Hills’ student representative to the BOE, highlighted recent events such as Wellness Week, Interact, the Pascack Pi-oneers, the Environmental Club, wrestling, and Teens Against Cancer. 

District budget approved for 2021-22 school year

After a presentation from Usami, the BOE approved the district budget for the 2021-22 school year, which is $63,270,241. The information is available for the public to view on the district website. 

The budget includes a two percent increase with proposals to add to the new schedule for students. Additional changes that led to the increase include curriculum changes, a roof replacement in the C-wing, the track replacement, and HVAC filtration upgrades at Hills. 

The Finance Committee held four meetings from November through March to discuss the budget, and the BOE approved the preliminary budget at their meeting on March 8. Increases in the budget were in order to “support the district’s vision, mission statement, and provide necessary funding” according to Usami. 

For taxes, Usami explained that the formula used to calculate taxes for residents is a percentage of the total enrollment of students K-8 plus the regional enrollment. As a result of this formula, Montvale will see a monthly decrease of $1.16 in taxes to support the district, while Woodcliff Lake will see a monthly increase of $45.46. Usami noted that “the Board of Education has no taxing authority” and emphasized the taxes were determined by the state. 

BOE accepts resignation of superintendent

The BOE voted unanimously to accept Gundersen’s resignation. Gundersen is leaving the district at the end of the 2020-21 school year in order to become the superintendent of Suffern Central School District. His appointment to the position was approved by Suffern Central’s BOE on April 20, and he then emailed a statement to the community.

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Several current and former BOE members and district administrators commented on how Gundersen has impacted them while working with him. 

Glenn deMarrais, former Hills principal and the outgoing principal at Valley, said, “I felt compelled to join you this evening and share my appreciation for Dr. Gundersen… your work here over the last 27 years will speak for itself; [Suffern] is very lucky to have you.” 

“He was really born to be a superintendent… I want to thank you for all the support and what you did here in the district,” Usami added. 

“We are behind you 100 percent,” BOE President Tammy Molinelli added. She added that the BOE is in contact with the NJ School Boards Association in finding an interim superintendent, and is “confident that [they] will be able to identify people to lead this really great district.” 

Gundersen noted he still has two and a half months left in his tenure to prepare for the 2021-22 school year, which he anticipates will include a return to fully in-person learing.

Along the way” of his 27-year career in the district, Gundersen said, “I believe that I have been supported, challenged, and welcomed. This place is truly special, and I want to thank the [current] Board of Education and prior boards for having the faith in me for leading this district.”

Other updates

The BOE also approved Evan Lampert to be the head coach of football at Hills for the 2021-22 school year. At its meeting on April 12, the BOE approved the resignation of social studies teacher Brooks Alexander as head football coach; he had been coach since 2001.

Read next:  Steven Papa approved as next athletic director

Molinelli said that the BOE will outline three scenarios to cover the cost of replacing the mascots at Hills and Valley at its meeting on May 10. While the Broncos and Panthers were approved in March for Hills and Valley, respectively, logos to represent each new mascot are still in the process of being selected. The selection process is being advised by branding consultant Lori Perlow, and the dedicated committees at each school consist of both students and teachers. 

In response to a comment from the public, Paul Zeller, the director of technology and communication for the district, explained the design process for each new mascot. He reported the following procedure: 

  • A survey was sent to students today for their input on the mascot design.
  • The design committee, made up of students and staff members, will discuss the students’ input. 
  • Design options will be given to a designer to review and create.
  • The committee will vote on designs to be sent out for students and staff to vote on.

Gundersen said that the BOE is “hoping to have images selected and approved by the end of the school year.”