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Supporters of arts, STEM schools win funding from BOCES board

Brian D’Addario, of Hicksville, plays the bass as

Brian D’Addario, of Hicksville, plays the bass as he and other students perform, "Half Nelsen,” a composition by Miles Davis, at Nassau BOCES' Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset on Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Credit: Heather Walsh

Supporters of the Long Island High School for the Arts and Doshi STEM Institute scored a victory Thursday night when they persuaded Nassau BOCES officials to keep them running for another year.

"We've come through," board president Eric Schultz said to dozens of students, parents and educators at the meeting in Garden City. "Now it's your turn."

The two programs had been in jeopardy because of declining enrollment. But a recent effort to highlight the schools as havens for students committed to the arts and sciences sparked a social media campaign and petition drive that brought as many as 150 people to the board meeting, some pledging to help in any way they could.

The room erupted in applause when Schultz said the schools would be funded, for now.

"It's a relief," said Rob Kramer, a graduate of the school and accomplished actor who teaches at LIHSA. "The board needed to see . . . [the level of support] and put a face to it."

Heather Conn, 23, of Locust Valley, said she was confident the board would elect to keep the schools in place, but she spoke of their merits at the meeting before the decision.

"I didn't really worry," she said. "There wasn't really doubt in me that we couldn't do it."

About 150 supporters turned out as officials met at BOCES' George Farber Administrative Center to discuss the fate of the 42-year-old performing arts school and an affiliated technology center.

Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services officials recently warned that the performing arts school and the Doshi STEM Institute -- a school opened in 2013 for students talented in science, technology, engineering and math -- face potential closure because of falling tuition revenue and sparse enrollments. The schools share the same Syosset campus.

About 180 students already have signed up at LIHSA and the STEM institute for the 2015-16 school year, but 235 are needed to run them on a self-sustaining basis, she said.

Nassau BOCES' proposed budget envisions continuing both schools' operations, at least through the end of the 2015-16 year. The schools, which accept students from Nassau and Suffolk counties, are largely funded by tuition paid by local districts whose students take classes part-time or full-time.

The arts school's budget for the current year is about $1.17 million, and the STEM center's is slightly more than $940,300.

Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy, said he knew of "some movement" on the issue among legislators. Tilles added that state education officials are looking at the possibility of classifying performing arts as a vocation -- a step that would make it easier for students to persuade their local school districts to pay BOCES tuition to provide them training in the field.

"If the arts are not a vocation in New York State, they're not a vocation anywhere," Tilles said, noting the importance of the arts and entertainment industry.

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