The Doshi STEM Institute, Long Island’s first science-focused high school, will close at the end of the school year in June because of a $1 million budget gap and stagnant enrollment, officials said.
Nassau BOCES Superintendent Robert Dillon told parents of students about the decision to end the 3-year-old program at a meeting Monday night at the Syosset campus.
“It was a difficult decision but we feel it was in the best interest of the students,”Dillon told a few disappointed parents in a sparsely populated theater at the Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset.
“This is not practical to keep open,” he said during an interview earlier in the day. “If anything, it would be a disservice — particularly for students with this kind of science talent.”
Forty-six students are enrolled in grades nine through 11 — less than one-quarter of those needed to sustain the school’s operating budget, he said. The projected enrollment for the 2016-17 academic year was 50 students.
The decision to close the school, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, would be confirmed by a Nassau BOCES board of trustees’ vote. A special board meeting is scheduled Thursday afternoon at the school.
The few parents in attendance were upset by the news, some consoling each other through sighs and sobs.
“My son loves this school,” said Jeanne D’Esposito of Malverne, whose son, Charlie, 16, is a sophomore at the Doshi STEM Institute with dreams of becoming a computer programmer.
“They owe it to these kids to give them a place to go and finish their studies.”
Andrea Nichols of Baldwin, whose son, Ismail, 14, is a freshman at Doshi, said he will have to readjust to life in his home district after completing a year at the specialized school.
“It was a great program — really, really good,” she said, adding that her son aspires to be an engineer. “I just wish they had found a way to get the districts to send more children.”
The Doshi STEM Institute was founded in 2013 in an attempt to create a competitive, specialized science high school that would pair students with expert educators and working scientists from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The students were given the opportunity to pursue a challenging course of study in engineering, research, robotics, math, physics, chemistry and biology.
It shares the Syosset campus of the BOCES-operated Long Island High School for the Arts, which also has been in jeopardy. Dillon said the 43-year-old arts high school will remain open “for as long as there is interest and enrollment.”
The schools have a combined 2016-17 budget of $3 million. BOCES officials did not immediately provide separate figures Monday.
Enrollment and interest in the STEM institute waned, officials said, after financial support was pulled by co-founder Dr. Leena Doshi, a radiologist who owns several imaging centers. The nonprofit Doshi Family Foundation initially committed $1 million over four years to the school, but so far has provided $150,000, BOCES officials said.
Doshi did not return calls seeking comment Monday.
The two schools have faced similar troubles. More than a year ago, students and their families made emotional pleas to BOCES officials to keep them open. A social media campaign and petition drive brought about 150 people to a March 2015 board meeting, with parents pledging to help in any way they could.
In November, Dillon recommended that both schools be closed, citing financial reasons.
The arts school got a reprieve in January, when musician Billy Joel — citing the importance of offering high school students the opportunity for education in the arts — stepped in with a $1 million pledge from his foundation if trustees agreed to keep it open for at least three years.
The arts school’s enrollment is healthier: Ninety-four students are enrolled, with 84 more accepted and 19 auditioning for the 2016-17 academic year.
Districts paid $13,195 per student in tuition to Nassau BOCES to send pupils to either school for a half-day of classes, five days each week.
Supporters of the STEM institute first proposed in 2012 that it operate as a charter school on the campus of SUNY Old Westbury. The program was moved to Nassau BOCES after officials in surrounding districts complained that a charter school could drain students and funds from their systems.
Budget-conscious districts trying to stay within the tight state-imposed tax caps became less willing to spend the money to send their students, Dillon said. Also, many districts have been boosting their own STEM programs.
Confidence in the institute began to decline when Doshi’s financial support stopped, Dillon said.
“You have a young woman or young man with a great talent in the sciences and you’re not going to send her or him to a program that’s built on a house of cards,” Dillon said.
In the current school year, the Baldwin, Freeport, Hempstead, Hicksville, Malverne, Oyster Bay-East Norwich, Syosset and Uniondale districts participated. Nassau BOCES officials said a total enrollment of 200 students would have been necessary to sustain the STEM school’s operations.
Dillon said Nassau BOCES is committed to transitioning those students into science education in their home districts.
One option that he said BOCES officials are looking at would be to locate a program in one or two districts that also admits students from neighboring districts.
Dillon said he and the BOCES governing board are actively discussing how best to use the space that will be vacant when the STEM school closes.
With John Hildebrand