Pascack Valley school funding dispute may go before Supreme Court of New Jersey

Photo courtesy Pascack Valley High School


In a July state appellate court ruling, the Borough of Woodcliff Lake won the right to hold a referendum asking voters if the borough should withdraw from the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, seeking to save property tax payers money.

Now, the communities of River Vale and Hillsdale – longtime partners in the award-winning regional school district with Montvale and Woodcliff Lake – have declared intentions to challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Woodcliff Lake property taxpayers, in the 2012-2013 school year, paid nearly double per student when compared to Hillsdale property tax payers, according to a January 2013 feasibility study commissioned by Woodcliff Lake. That study showed the district’s average cost per student that year was $21,100, while the cost to specific communities varied: Hillsdale, $15,750; Montvale, $25,600; River Vale, $18,050; Woodcliff Lake, $30,250. Regional school funding is determined by a formula, created by the state legislature, based on equalized property values.

Officials from Hillsdale and River Vale are quick to point out that their communities once paid a majority of the district’s costs; shifting demographics and large corporate campuses in Woodcliff Lake and Montvale have caused shifts in property valuations since the district was first constituted.

Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, RC, a firm representing Woodcliff Lake, said in a statement that the municipality seeks “instead to enter into a send-receive relationship with the district, which would allow the borough to pay tuition on a per-pupil basis rather than pay taxes based on equalized property values, as it currently does.”

“All River Vale is fighting to prevent is people, whose children attend schools, from voting on the future of those schools,” Attorney Vito Gagliardi, of the Porzi firm, told Pascack Press. “The current funding formula is grossly disproportionate, and it’s not the way it was intended.”

The mayors of Hillsdale and River Vale said by pushing for a Supreme Court review, their communities are fighting back against an assault on a prized community asset: the well-regarded regional high school system.

“We are going to fight every step of the way, and pursue every available legal remedy, to make sure our children continue to get the very best education we can give them,” said River Vale Mayor Glen Jasionowski, in a statement. “We are not going to stand by while Woodcliff Lake attempts to avoid paying its fair share and threatens this exceptional school system which has been carefully developed over 60 years with course reductions, staff layoffs, and sports cutbacks.”

It’s a statement echoed by Hillsdale Mayor Doug Frank, who is resigning at month’s end.

“All experts have confirmed the obvious – if Woodcliff Lake is successful in this endeavor, the high school will need to implement substantial changes that will detrimentally impact programming and staffing at the high school,” said Frank. “Why Woodcliff Lake would take steps that would cause irreparable damage to the high school still confounds me.

“Whatever savings Woodcliff Lake believes it would realize by withdrawing from the high school will not overcome the negative impact these actions will have upon our property values when the high school’s reputation is damaged by having to suffer through this disruptive change,” said Frank.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual within the regional school district.

“The Pascack Valley Regional High School District has maintained its position of not getting involved in the school funding formula dispute between the four municipal governments,” said Superintendent of Schools Erik Gundersen. “The Board of Education has no authority in determining how the funding formula is determined and instead has continued to focus on the unifying topic of continuing to provide its students with strong educational experiences.”

Montvale Mayor Mike Ghassali, when reached by email, declined to comment on this article.