UNION COUNTY — Come September the Raymond Lesniak Recovery High School will open its doors on the Kean campus for students recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.
The only problem is no one seems to know anything about it at the state funded university.
The program will be open to all high school students in the county, and it is expected that sending school districts will pay for the cost of students attending the high school. It is expected in the first year the facility will accept 25 to 30 students, but as it evolves that number will expand to 60.
According to Pamela Capaci, executive director of Prevention Links in Roselle who has been working in conjunction with the Housing Authority of Elizabeth to open the school, she met months ago with Kean University President Dawood Farahi and he provided use of a building on campus.
“Dr. Farahi gave us a one-year commitment for a facility at Kean months ago,” Capaci said Tuesday in an interview with LocalSource, explaining that she toured the building that will be used for the recovery high school located near the Kean child daycare and athletic buildings.
“Dr. Farahi said he had a building that was not fully being utilized and he could move the dance program to another building so we could use the entire site,” the executive director said, adding the program is a “win-win for everyone.”
The building, Capaci explained, is free-standing and will provide up to five classrooms, in addition to multi-purpose rooms and conference rooms for the school that will cost approximately $1 million to get off the ground.
In November, when Democrat State Sen. Ray Lesniak unveiled plans for the high school named in his honor, there was mention that this facility would be located at Kean, but efforts to uncover where it would be housed revealed little if any information.
Burt Wailoo, a tenured professor for 28 years in the Kean Accounting Department, decided to use the Open Public Records Act to see what he could uncover, but his efforts turned up absolutely nothing.
According to a letter to Wailoo dated Nov. 27 from Kean University Custodian of Records Laura Barkley-Haelig, there were “no records responsive to your request.”
Wailoo requested four records, including a copy of the approval by the Kean board of Trustees to house the project at the university; a copy of the contractual agreement between Kean University and the Raymond Lesniak Recorvery High School; the location of where this high school will be housed; and a copy of the total financial costs incurred by the university and the revenues to be obtained from the project.
The university professor said he was baffled and confused that Kean had no documentation on this high school expected to open in Sept. 2014, which is less than a year away.
“This is outrageous. Nothing has been passed by the board of trustees and no one knows anything about it,” said Wailoo.
Kean Federation of Teachers Local 2187 President James Castiglione said faculty and staff were highly supportive of the concept of a high school dedicated to addressing the educational needs of this at-risk segment of students and applauded Lesniak for taking the lead on the issue. However, he did have problems with no one on campus being able to access information on this facility.
“Attempt to get information from the Kean University administration about details of the initiative, however, have gone nowhere,” he said Tuesday. “High level administrators claim to know nothing about this project. The result is that a number of serious questions remain unanswered.”
Among the questions Castiglione posed were whether a university campus is a good environment for students trying to recover from addictions; who will provide instruction and what affect will putting this high school on campus have on undergraduates and graduate students admissions and enrollment.
Capaci, executive director of Prevention Links, explained that plans for the high school have been in the works for three years, but initially it was thought the New Jersey State Department of Education would approve the facility for recovery teens as a charter school.
In September, the department of education rejected that application based on the fact the financial plan appeared to be weak and there was insufficient focus on classroom work. That is when efforts to go in another direction began in earnest.