After several years of legal wrangling and a , the River Dell Regional Funding fight has moved one step closer to a final resolution following two days of testimony last week before Administrative Law Judge Leslie Z. Celentano in Newark.
"It was a long two days," Oradell Councilman Tony Meo said. "I was very impressed by our attorney and expert witnesses who were all very informed and had a strong understanding of the borough, its demographics and economics. I am very confident that we weill get a fair recommendation from the administrative law judge that will benefit the taxpayers of the town of Oradell."
Oradell which sends approximately 653 students to the spends about $20,360 per pupil. River Edge, with 1,024 students, pays about $14,330 for each of its students. The current formula is based on each borough's equalized taxes, although Oradell wants to switch to an 80-20 mix formula of equalized taxes and a per-pupil charge to be implemented over a four-year span.
Oradell's main argument is based on the 2005 precedent when former Education Commissioner William Librera changed how Manchester Regional was funded in order to avoid North Haledon leaving and creating a reduced racial diversity. Students from Haledon and Prospect Park also attend Manchester Regional with North Haledon residents.
Former Oradell Councilman Andrew Rudman likened the situation to "two couples sit down for the same dinner, but one couple pays 50 percent more when the bill comes around." During his tenure on the governing body, Rudman was appointed by former Mayor Fred LaMonica to oversee any progress in the funding fight.
According to James Kirtland, a CPA who testified on behalf of Oradell during the hearings, River Edge homeowners would pay $540 more in annual taxes, while Oradell residents woudl save $622.
River Edge has roughly 11,300 residents with an average income of $109,000 and an average assessed home of $436,000. There are approximately 8,000 residents in Oradell, an average household income of $147,000, and the average assessed home is $531,722.
River Edge's witness Melvin Wyns, an expert on school finance, argued that equalized property taxes was the only way to appropriate funding for a regional school district. He also stated that a survey of the 70 shared districts in New Jersey all showed dispropportionate tax burdens.
"Hopefully the judge will uphold the current school funding formula," River Edge Mayor Sandy Moscaritolo said. "Most of the governing body from Oradell was there for both days."
Celetano's decision is still several months away while both sides prepare additional briefs on the constitutional basis for Oradell’s petition. Once her decisision is rendered, Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf has three options: accept, reject or modify her recommendation.