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Kanawha school board to discuss library funding

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although the state Supreme Court recently ruled that certain boards of education across the state are no longer mandated by law to fund their public libraries, the state Department of Education thinks county school boards should continue to support their libraries any way they can.

"We support any counties that can continue providing money for their libraries. If a county is able, that's definitely something we support," Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the Board of Education, said after State Schools Superintendent Jim Phares voiced his support for libraries to lawmakers last week.

For the 2013-14 year, the Department of Education is recommending that the Kanawha County Board of Education provide about $234,500 for the Kanawha County Public Library -- more than $2 million less than the school board contributed last year.

The court ruled on Feb. 22 that a 1957 special act that requires Kanawha County to give a portion of its budget each year to the local library system creates unequal treatment and is therefore null and void. Similar laws have provided libraries in nine other counties with funding from school boards.

The decision came 10 years after the Kanawha County school board first sued the library over the matter.

The school board had been contributing 1.25 percent of its budget each year -- about $3 million -- to the library, which took care of 40 percent of the library's total budget.

"Wow. Frankly, that won't come close to making up for what we've lost," Alan Englebert, director of the Kanawha County Public Library, said when he heard the recommended figure.

Joe Panetta, superintendent of finance for the Department of Education, has been sending out recommendations for library funding to county boards for years calculating factors such as property tax contributions, state aid and local support.

For Kanawha County, those figures have meant nothing, since state law had always required a designated amount automatically come out of the school board's budget for the library.

"In counties like ours, it's obviously far, far less then what was contributed through the Special Act. But, it has been helpful in some counties where the school boards were contributing absolutely nothing. We appreciate that the Department of Education sees that school boards need to be involved in funding, but the fact still remains these are generally small amounts," Englebert said.

The state department also recommends that Kanawha County Schools contribute $9,500 to the Nitro Public Library and $17,000 to the South Charleston Library, which is completely independent from the Kanawha County Public Library system.

Kanawha school board president Pete Thaw said Phares' call for boards to continue financial support of libraries was "outrageous." He said the state superintendent of schools "doesn't have a dog in the fight."

"I don't think he understands our situation. It's unfair for a person who doesn't live here -- doesn't pay taxes here -- to make any recommendations because he doesn't understand the burden that's put on us," Thaw said.

Thaw said the school board shouldn't have to spend any more money on the library, since they've already spent more than $270,000 on lawsuits trying to break free of the funding law tying them together.

"The most addictive thing in a bureaucracy is OPM -- other people's money. They can never get enough of it, and that's what Mr. Phares is," Thaw said.

Kanawha school board members will meet in public session for the first time to discuss library-funding plans at a meeting Monday at 4 p.m.

School board member Robin Rector said she does not know what the board will decide, but she hopes they will be able to help support the library in some way -- at least through the end of this fiscal year, which ends in June.

"I don't think it was our intention with any of this to knock the legs out of the library or cause it to crumble. We've got to figure things out. We're in new territory -- we've not been here before," Rector said. "It's going to take some discussion and negotiations, and I'm just hopeful that everyone will be open to that."

School board member Bill Raglin said important discussions will be had at today's meeting, but the future of the library may still be unclear.

"We certainly want to find some way that we are called upon to work with the library to ensure some funding, but to voluntarily come out and say we're going to is no way of ensuring a string of funds are going to be long-term," he said. "It's not our intention to shut the libraries down. But, there are powers outside of the school board that could play a significant role, and I think they should."

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


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