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Nassau BOCES board delays closing LI arts school, STEM center, partly swayed by Billy Joel letter

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Nearly 200 parents and students attended a Nassau BOCES board meeting at the George Farber Administrative Center in Garden City on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. The meeting was to consider closing the Long Island High School for the Arts and Doshi STEM Institute because of failing enrollment and dwindling tuition revenue. An impassioned letter from pop-rock star and Long Island icon Billy Joel, asking the board to find other alternatives to closing the arts school, was read and helped influence the vote. (Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz)

Two specialized Long Island high schools in danger of closing won a reprieve Thursday night from the Nassau BOCES board and a potential commitment for support from Long Island's favorite son, Billy Joel.

Speaking before a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 200, board members unanimously voted to approve taking steps to grow enrollment and raise funds for the Long Island High School for the Arts and Doshi Science Technology Engineering and Math Institute. Board members told district Superintendent Robert Dillon to submit a report by mid-March on whether it is fiscally sound for the two programs to continue. Enrollment declines had led to the possible closures of both schools after June 2016.

"Understand that we have high regard for the program, the staff and the students," board president Eric Schultz said. "This is the beginning of a process."

He read a letter from musician Joel, who asked the board not to move toward closing the arts school, saying it should be built "into something Long Island and New York State can be proud of."

"I went to public school on Long Island and I am grateful for the music program and my music teachers for helping provide me the tools for which I have based my career," the pop-rock icon wrote in the letter, dated Nov. 18 and released Thursday by Joel's publicist. "I understand that closing this school does not mean the end of the music and arts programs on Long Island, but it does indicate our willingness to abandon a school that has been there for 40 years."

After reading the letter aloud to the crowd, Schultz said he reached out to Joel's manager, who told him "Billy would be both willing personally and professionally to donate to the cause," Schultz said, adding, however, "his participation alone is not enough."

Joel's input came as parents worked frantically against the proposed closure of the arts school and the Doshi STEM Institute, which share a Syosset complex and serve students from both Nassau and Suffolk counties. The programs have seen falling enrollment and dwindling tuition revenue.

The Nassau BOCES board discussed the issue to a standing-room-only crowd at its George Farber Administrative Center in Garden City.Schultz and other board members urged supporters to help publicize the school and lobby legislators for funding.

Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, confirmed that he will meet with BOCES administrators to discuss the fates of the two schools. That meeting likely will take place within the next week, a BOCES official said.

Regent Roger Tilles, a strong supporter of the arts who advocated at the state level for an arts pathway to graduation, pledged his support for the high school.

"We have a leeway of two to three months," Tilles said. "There is time to get this done."

Assemb. Joseph Saladino (R-Massapequa) also attended. "This school is a tremendous asset to Long Island and I want to make sure I am reminding the leaders in our state to protect this asset," he said.

Parent Jennifer Boudin of Melville, whose daughter, Emma, 15, is a sophomore and enrolled in the visual arts program at the arts high school, said she is hopeful.

"We need to get the message out there and the message is the school is alive and is not going away," she said.

Board members also noted that the tax cap has prevented districts from raising revenue to fund non-mandated educational programs offered by BOCES and that the Doshi Foundation had ceased funding the Institute and breached its agreement with BOCES.

Earlier this week, Dillon said the schools ran up a $2 million operating deficit during the past two years. Their combined 2015-16 enrollment is 138 students, less than half of the complex's capacity of 300.

With Glenn Gamboa

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