By Jon Campbell
ALBANY -- The state Senate quietly distributed about $20 million in aid to schools and libraries on the last day of the 2012 legislative session.
REPORT: Find out how much your school district got
Individual school districts and educational programs across the state received grants ranging from a few thousand dollars to $500,000, according to a resolution passed by the Senate on June 21.
"This is intended to smooth out inequities in the school-aid formula and includes monies for districts represented by both Republicans and Democrats," Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate's Republican majority, said Tuesday. "It was approved with bipartisan support."
Known as "bullet aid," the aid is meant to shore up unforeseen issues with the state's funding system for schools and libraries. Critics, however, say it closely resembles "pork" spending, an oft-criticized system in Albany in which legislators were able to steer state grants to pet projects and non-profits.
Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, said politics too often become involved in distributing bullet aid.
"It becomes politically motivated rather than actually motivated by some sense of equity," said Timbs, whose group represents a coalition of New York school districts critical of the state's education-aid formula.
But in a shift, the Senate GOP distributed some of the latest round of bullet aid to Democratic districts, though the majority still went to Republican-held seats.
Senate Democrats had blasted the GOP in May for a previous $10 million round that had gone exclusively to Republican districts.
A spokesman for the conference declined comment Tuesday.
The 2012-13 state budget included about $40 million in bullet aid split between the Senate and Assembly, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget office.
The latest round of Senate aid came from that pot of money, as well as about $6 million that hadn't been used from 2011-12. It leaves the chamber with less than $1 million left to distribute.
The Assembly, meanwhile, has about $9 million left.
Both the Senate and Assembly can individually distribute the bullet aid by passing a resolution. Prior to this year, the majorities in each house directed the funding without a vote.
"The budget included an appropriation for bullet aid and outlined how it would be distributed, and that's through a one-house bill," said Morris Peters, a spokesman for Cuomo's budget division.
Schools and education programs in the city of Rochester made out well in the latest round. The Rochester City School District received a total of $644,000, on top of $1 million that had been earmarked by the Assembly in March.
"We will use this additional funding from New York state to provide our students with expanded learning opportunities," Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said. "All of our students can be successful if we give them the time and support."
The Rochester-based EnCompass: Resources for Learning, a state-approved supplemental education provider, also received $500,000.
In the Southern Tier, $700,000 went to programs sponsored by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous' office. The Binghamton Republican's "Books Program with Senator Libous" -- a pro-reading initiative -- and "Yes! Safe Choices for Kids" drug-prevention program each received $350,000, records show.
Libous spokesman Emmanuel Priest said the anti-drug program is run by schools in Libous' district, while BOOKS "rewards elementary students for time spent reading."
"BOOKS has had over 15,233 elementary school participants and provided over $400,000 in direct aid to local libraries," Priest said.
For the Poughkeepsie City School District, a $44,887 grant will go toward a renovated athletic training room at Poughkeepsie High School, according to Superintendent Laval Wilson. Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, secured the funds.
"It's very helpful to us," Wilson said. "City school districts are generally not well off as far as assessed values, so all types of aid that we can get we put into our programs. I'm pleased to get it."
The district is also set to receive a separate grant of $31,000, according to the resolution.
In the Lower Hudson Valley, the aid to Westchester, Rockland and Putnam county schools and programs totaled more than $1 million.
A total of $340,000 went to schools in Tuckahoe, Somers, Peekskill, Yorktown, Bedford and Lewisboro, ranging from a grant of $10,000 to Kennedy Catholic High School to a grant of $80,000 to Katonah-Lewisboro schools.
"While the money was not expected, it will serve as a great benefit," said Mark Lipton, Katonah-Lewisboro's board president. "The Board of Education will be discussing the intended use of this grant for a school youth officer at the meeting this Thursday."