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Kanawha school board will fund library through June

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While the Kanawha County Board of Education approved a motion to continue funding the public library through the end of June, library officials did not leave Thursday's school board meeting with a stable solution to its funding problem past that date.

Instead, they have 90 days to try to come up with alternative revenue streams and "a more concrete solution" for the future.

"We were certainly hopeful that something would happen [tonight.] This creates an extremely tight timeframe to make any adjustments or even to do our own budget, which is something we need to do immediately also," said Kanawha County Public Library Director Alan Engelbert. "Forty percent is not a belt-tightening -- It's a great deal of money."

Also at Thursday's meeting, board members voted to not support redistricting plans for overcrowded South Hills area schools, pending further review.

Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a special act that required the school board to give about $3 million to the library each year, or about 40 percent of the library's entire budget. Library officials have since asked the school board to voluntarily direct a portion of their budget for library operations, even though the school board won its lawsuit to end the funding relationship.

While most of the school board agrees they don't want to "pull the plug" on the library after this fiscal year is up, the board's own financial troubles could overshadow the library's requests.

The board is facing a $2.1 million deficit for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

"We simply do not have the money to keep paying the library a quarter of a million each month. We just don't have it. It's that simple," school board President Pete Thaw said. "If anyone can find it, it'd be wonderful, but we can't."

Seven-year-old Vivian Schmidt, a student at Montrose Elementary, stood before the board Thursday to ask for support for the library.

"Have you ever heard that old saying that books can take you places? Well, it's true," she said. "All of the books are so inspiring to me, and the movies, of course. All of the people are so nice to us."

Board member Becky Jordon urged the board Thursday to vote to continue funding the library at the $3 million mark through June 2014.

"We wanted that lawsuit, but I just feel like we can't take our money and run. We've gone this long. They're a part of education, and they're a part of us. We need to give them time," Jordon said. "We can't be the school board that takes the libraries down."

Library officials have said major cutbacks and closures would be imminent if it loses 40 percent of its budget, including the closure of six branches. Sunday hours have already ended, and next year's West Virginia Book Festival was cancelled in an attempt to save money.

While board member Bill Raglin said he wants to help the library find a solution, continuing to give the full amount of funding isn't likely.

"If we were to commit to $3 million for next year, that's about 50 teachers. I don't know whether or not we can as a board support the full amount without making some extremely large cuts [ourselves]," he said.

Raglin question why school and library leaders could not come up with a solution within 90 days, saying, "This is not brain surgery."

"It almost is in this type of economy," Jordon replied.

The board voted to again meet with library officials over the next month and reconvene at April's meeting with a plan. Some board members suggested the county commission sponsor a levy to bring in revenue for the library. 

Board member Robin Rector suggested it would be "fiscally prudent" to factor in the loss of 1 percent of its budget, since a bill has been introduced that, if passed, would require all county school boards to set aside a portion of their budgets for libraries.

Rector said she's tired of hearing that 1 percent "isn't that much," since 85 percent of the school board's budget is fixed costs.

"One percent is really what we take out of the remaining 15 percent we have control over. So, it becomes much more significant. I know it hurts and I know that it will perhaps keep us from forging forward with some innovative things. It's going to be painful," she said. "They were caught surprised. I don't want us to be caught surprised. If the Legislature approves this, we could be faced with having to do the same thing."

Superintendent Ron Duerring reminded the board to not lose sight of its own problems while trying to help the library.

"I hope this board will have equal discussion about how we're going to take care of our own problems," he said. "We've not done that."

Also at Thursday's meeting, the board voted to follow through with some redistricting plans. Legg Fork area students attending Flinn Elementary will now move to Sissonville Elementary, and Orchard Manor-area students attending Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary will now attend Grandview Elementary.

The board did not vote Thursday to redraw attendance zones for Overbrook, Kenna and Holz elementary schools.

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

 

 


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