CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha school board members agree that they need to help the public library stay above water while it transitions with the loss of a major funding stream, but it remains unclear how much money school officials would contribute -- if any -- once the fiscal year ends in June.
On Monday, the Kanawha County Board of Education met publicly for the first time to discuss its plans for the library after its members won a lawsuit last month that struck down a 1957 special act mandating it give a chunk of its budget to libraries each year.
Without the annual $3 million from the school board -- about 40 percent of the library's entire budget -- major cutbacks are on the horizon for Kanawha library services. On Monday afternoon, the library announced it is ending Sunday hours in Charleston and St. Albans effective immediately.
"Well, we got what we asked for, but what does that mean?" said school board member Robin Rector. "I value the library's services. They not only provide for our schools, but for our community.
"We're in a current fiscal year where we plan to meet your needs, and I personally think we should honor that. But we need to discuss where we go from there. We're like every other community agency in this valley -- we're strapped and hurting for dollars as well."
The school board first took the library to court in 2003 in an attempt to break free of the funding agreement. Library officials asked Monday for the school board to voluntarily fund the library even though they're no longer required by law to do so.
But the school board is facing financial struggles of its own, and is projecting a more than $4 million deficit for the 2014 budget.
"Even though it took 10 years to get here, it sort of shocked everyone when it happened," said school board member Bill Raglin. "We need to ensure that what the public wants, the public gets, and that the funding mechanism is something they can count on -- not just a way of getting over this hump through some voluntary contribution that could change with the next board."
Karen Ireland, a mother of two Kanawha County students, presented school board members with a petition of nearly 500 signatures asking that they voluntarily fund the library at the $3 million mark. She said the petition was circulated only 48 hours before the meeting.
"I'm here to ask any of you who view the library as anything less than a fundamental piece of our children's education to have a change of heart," she said. "An under-funded library will hurt students."
Library board President Mike Albert said he was relieved to hear the school board would not be making any decisions Monday, and encouraged dialogue between the two entities. He plans to meet with Superintendent Ron Duerring today to discuss the issue further.
Albert said the library has always been "intimately and extensively involved in the education of Kanawha County students." While the school board is no longer required to fund the library, it still has a say in who is appointed to the library board and oversees its accounting.
More than 40 schools have libraries that use the Kanawha library's computer catalog, and the library loans 50,000 books to school libraries in addition to servicing seven schools with a mobile library, Albert said.
"By and large, it's worked very well. The partnership has been a terrific benefit to the children, students and adult populations," he said. "We understand the concerns that brought the board of education to litigate the funding, but we continue to believe and hope that the interests of all of us are best served by leaving that close arrangement intact.