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Library's solutions include closures, layoffs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Closing facilities, laying off employees, cutting back student programs and pushing for an excess levy are all possibilities Kanawha County Public Library officials are considering as they plan how to move forward without funding from the Board of Education.

Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Kanawha County school board is no longer required by law to divert a portion of its budget for the public library each year -- meaning a funding loss of about 40 percent of the library's total $8 million budget.

The Kanawha County Public Library Board of Directors met in an emergency meeting Tuesday evening to discuss possible solutions, with soliciting the Legislature and the Governor's Office for assistance at the top of the list.

"We can be angry, we can be irate, we can be depressed, we can be upset about what's happened to our library, our patrons and our staff, but when all is said and done, we are the fiduciaries of this library and our job is to move forward," library board President Mike Albert told board members. "We can't throw up our arms in despair and do nothing.

"We face a serious challenge, one that is going to confront us with hard actions and perhaps actions none of us want to undertake," he said. "But we have no choice."

Albert laid out a list of more than 20 recommendations for the board to consider, but urged that they are merely suggestions that would come into play if no other funding streams are made available.

Recommendations include closely examining services provided by the library for the student population that were a direct result of the Board of Education funding, and aren't required for broader needs of all library patrons.

"This is not meant to be vindictive or mean. But, we think we're a strong adjunct to the Board of Education, and we have provided those services without regret or recourse," he said. "We'll be looking to see if those services are something that can be discontinued to save money or can be used under some funding arrangement.

"Obviously, the sad part is if we discontinue those services, the people that are hurt are the students of Kanawha County," Albert said. "That puts us in a very difficult position. We would do it with reluctance and with care, but we would do it."

Library administrators plan to ask that the school board continue at least some of its funding voluntarily, and will explore the possibility of a "separate, dedicated" excess levy to support the library through the Board of Education, the Kanawha County Commission or the City of Charleston.

Kanawha County Schools, for instance, already has one excess levy that supplements teacher salaries and helps fund textbooks, technology in schools, building maintenance and more. Last year, voters approved a new excess levy that will generate $44 million annually and runs from 2014 until 2019. It could not help fund the library.  

School board president Pete Thaw said Tuesday night that no discussions about continuing funding for the library have taken place.

Library officials also plan to "immediately solicit" the County Commission and the city -- the remaining two primary sources of the library's funding -- to increase their annual contributions. But Mayor Danny Jones told the Gazette Monday  he has no intention of upping the funding.

Other suggestions include creating a plan to close facilities based on use, cost to operate and location, as well as reducing hours of service at some or all libraries, starting with the immediate discontinuation of Sunday openings.

A plan to "terminate or furlough the lowest possible number of existing employees" over the next six months will also be considered, as well as across-the-board cuts to salaries. More than 60 percent of the library's budget is made up of personnel costs, Albert said.

"If we were to hit the full requirement to fund the deficit out of our current revenue, we would be talking about as high as a third of our current employees," he said. "This loss of funding isn't just an inconvenience. Our budget covers the purchase of materials like computers, events like the West Virginia Book Festival and summer reading programs, but most of all, the budget is principally personnel. We provide the knowledge and help of librarians."

Since 2002, library officials have been raising money to build a new $37 million main branch, but those plans are also being halted.

"We're going to put the proposal in limbo. We're not abandoning it, we're not saying we're never going to do it, we're just saying right now, it just cannot be done," Albert said.

The library board also plans to work with the West Virginia Library Commission, the West Virginia Library Association and other affected public libraries to achieve "a permanent, statewide solution."

The library will be able to operate using reserve funds for up to six months to smooth the transition, Albert said, but plans for the future need to be implemented as soon as possible.

"We have been operating for several years with one eye on the budget and one on the ongoing litigation with the Board of Education. So, we've been watching our money," he said. "But, it would be imprudent to continue business as usual. It's been a tough couple of days, and it isn't going to get any better for a while but we're going to do what we can to get through this in the most reasonable and cautious, least disruptive way we can.

"But, I don't want to undersell just the sheer impact of a 40 percent loss."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.

 


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