The Fashion Institute of Technology, located on 7th avenue between...

The Fashion Institute of Technology, located on 7th avenue between 27th and 28th streets in Manhattan, has filed a lawsuit against both Nassau and Suffolk Counties, hoping to win back more than 10 million dollars in tuition payments withheld for Long Island students attending the school. (June. 18, 2012) Credit: Nancy Borowick

Fashion Institute of Technology has taken the first step toward filing a lawsuit to get back more than $10 million in payments for Nassau and Suffolk students who attend the Manhattan college.

FIT officials filed separate notices of claim earlier this month against both Long Island counties, as well as upstate Monroe County which school officials say owes $600,000 in tuition payments.

The counties began withholding payments earlier this year after State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Parga in Nassau ruled they did not have to make tuition payments for their local FIT students beyond the two-year community college program.

All two-year state community colleges have long charged other counties a share of costs for local students who attend schools beyond their borders. FIT, while classified as a community college, also has four-year and graduate-degree programs.

The state originally authorized FIT to charge back counties for upper division students, but that was when the state paid counties back for those costs. The state later dropped the aid payments.

Cheri Fein, FIT spokeswoman, said state law still requires the county payments.

"Our notices of claim are very clear with respect to informing the three counties they have defaulted on their obligations to the college and should they choose not to pay the amounts owed, we will pursue our remedies at law," Fein said.

Nassau has withheld $6.9 million in payments for about 600 residents who attended FIT in the fall and spring semesters of the past school year. County Attorney John Ciampoli said payments were withheld because the college failed to provide a breakdown of upper-division students for the past decade. "We have not gotten any detail on what degrees we're paying for," Ciampoli said.

Fein said the college sent the county a breakdown for current students two weeks ago, but did not respond to a request last year which sought data back to 1975.

Suffolk Comptroller Joseph Sawicki asked for and received FIT's details on the cost for students beyond two-year programs for the fall and spring. He withheld $3.1 million for about 300 students.

Monroe County officials declined to comment because of pending litigation. FIT says Monroe, which includes Rochester, paid no bills for its 50 students.

In Albany, State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) chairman of the higher education committee, has a bill that would restore state aid for upper-division FIT students and end authority for counties to charge back the towns for tuition, which he said made "no sense."

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