Phillips gives grants to 17 N. Shore libraries, school districts

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State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) poses with Williston Park Library Director Donna McKenna, to whom she gave a $10,000 grant. (Photo courtesy of state Sen. Elaine Phillips)

Seventeen North Shore libraries and school districts are getting education grants from state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill), her office said this week.

The grants range in size from $5,000 to $13,000 and total $164,000. In all, Phillips has distributed 22 grants totaling $225,000 throughout her state Senate district.

These grants, known as “bullet aid,” are supplemental to state funding for schools and libraries. The recipients have broad discretion over how to spend them, but “they must be used for K-12 educational programs or projects,” Stephen Romano, a spokesman for Phillips and former Blank Slate Media reporter, said in an email.

“There is no greater resource in our communities than local libraries,” Phillips said in a news release last week touting a $10,000 grant to the Williston Park Library. “Libraries provide countless opportunities through programs for children, adults and senior citizens, as well as services such as job searches, preparing for job interviews and developing resumes.”

State lawmakers have similarly broad discretion over who gets the grants.

Bullet aid is one of three programs through which legislators dole out grants to local municipalities and nonprofit groups, Blank Slate Media reported last year. Leaders of each chamber’s controlling political party decide how much money from those programs each lawmaker gets to award — meaning Republican senators and Democratic Assembly members get to award the most grants.

Local officials say the money helps schools and libraries pay for projects that would usually come out of their regular budgets, which are funded directly by local taxpayers.

Ten of Phillips’ North Shore grants went to libraries. All received $10,000 except the Manhasset Public Library, which got $13,000.

The other seven went to school districts. The New Hyde Park-Garden City Park and Floral Park-Bellerose school districts, which serve kindergartners through sixth-graders, each got $5,000, the smallest grant amount. The Herricks school district’s was the largest at $13,000.

The Williston Park Library did not solicit its grant from Phillips, Donna McKenna, the library director, said. The senator gave no stipulations or deadlines for how to spend it, but “asked to be updated as we decide on what we’re going to be doing with it,” McKenna said.

Staff members are brainstorming how to use the money, McKenna said. Past sums from Phillips’ predecessor, Jack Martins, paid for new carpets, shelves and a paint job, she said.

“It enables us to make changes that would normally be out of our operating expenses,” McKenna said.

Mark Kamberg, the East Williston school board president, said the district has to maintain “official documentation” of how its grants are spent.

The district never expects to receive the money, Kamberg said, but district officials meet regularly with state lawmakers and lobby to get their “fair share.”

“We don’t necessarily count on anything,” he said. “We’re just thankful when they recognize that we’re a part of that puzzle and we can use it just as much.”

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