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On Feb. 6 students performed a ballet demonstration in front of prospective students at an open for Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset, NY. Photo by Ronny Reyes

Billy Joel’s million-dollar donation pledge to the Long Island High School for the Arts would be used to alleviate costs and bring down tuition for three years, district officials said.

“The money would be used to offset expenses and help lower the student’s tuition within the provided three years,” Robert Dillon, district superintendent of the Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said.

As LIHSA’s debt rose and the district’s budget went under review, it was decided that the program would be shut down after this school year ends, district officials said.

Dillon, who inherited the situation when he was appointed six months ago, speculated that LIHSA’s financial problems stemmed from a combination of New York State’s property tax levy cap and decreasing enrollment rates, which have continued to drop over the last 8 years.

“The hope is that with Billy Joel’s generous contribution and appearance, we’re able to draw attention to the problem and encourage more applications from students,” he said.

Located in Syosset, N.Y., LIHSA offers artistic courses throughout the day for students attending Nassau and Suffolk high schools.

On Feb. 6 LIHSA held an open house for prospective students from school districts throughout Long Island, holding demonstrations in their theatre, dance and art departments.

Inside one of the theatres at the open house, instructor Abbe Gail Gross held individual performances from her students and even invited visitors to join in on a group improv performance.

Gross says that she always finds a dramatic improvement in her student’s work and professional drive. “They want to continue pursuing their talents, and we look at theatre programs in the country and work with them to look at colleges and apply for scholarships,” she said.

Rosey Ozimkowsy, a junior from North Port High School studying musical theater at LIHSA said that the school is helping her prepare for mock tryouts for colleges.

“It’s important for the college process and regimen that the school stayed open because now we actually have a shot at our aspiring careers,” Ozimkowsy said.

The school also gives students the opportunity to earn college credits for the courses they are taking, which can range from two to three credits in dance all the way to four credits in anatomy, according to Angela Marshall, LIHSA’s public information officer.

“When taking these classes, we’re only paying $390 compared to whatever the tuition is at the college, so we’re not only saving time but money as well,” said Johnnier Semner, a first year studying dance at LIHSA.

“These classes are opportunities for students,” said Bridget Uzzelle, site director for the Civano Community School in Tucson, Arizona.

The art program for the Arizonian K-8 school had received a $15,000 donation a few months ago from a local coffee shop who heard that the program was struggling financially. The money is being used to help pay for supplies and teachers’ salaries, preventing the further use of the school’s “rainy day fund,” Uzzelle said.

When learning about LIHSA’s financial situation, Uzzelle mentioned the importance of help from the community to keep these types of programs going, including aid from parents.

Laura Young, co-founder of LIHSA’s Parents Association, which was developed this past November, said, “Once the parents started to hear about the problem with the school possibly closing, we all wanted to get involved to help.”

It was a member of the Parents Association who had been able to reach Joel and inform him of the school’s possible closing, Young said.

Among the prospective students who attended the open house was Young’s daughter. “They can be who they want here. For some of them, public school is not the place,” Young added.

As the school tries to get a proposal passed that will help fund the school on a state level, Dillon will be presenting a plan on March 15 that decides if the school can keep their end of the bargain with Joel and keep the school open for another three years using Joel’s million dollars.

“The plan is a work in progress, and I’ll be making a presentation in regards to the funding. Like Shakespeare said, ‘Beware the Ides of March.’”