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Library funding bill moves forward; questions linger

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Senate Education Committee members advanced a bill Thursday designed to restore some of the $3 million of funding the Kanawha County Public Library system lost when the state Supreme Court struck down a law that required some county school boards to fund local libraries.

The bill (SB575) would require county school boards across the state to designate 1 percent of their operating budgets to local libraries.

Committee members narrowly passed the legislation Thursday afternoon on a non-unanimous voice vote. The bill moves to the Senate Finance Committee.

State lawmakers indicated the library funding legislation might require extensive study, which could doom the bill this session. The legislation would affect only school systems that support libraries through excess levies.

"I'm not sure we have this bill exactly right," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne. "This is a significant policy shift over what we've had in the past."

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said many county school boards could not afford to designate extra funds to libraries.

"I'm sure libraries need additional funding," Barnes said. "But I don't think we need legislation to take care of Kanawha County's problem."

Kanawha County Public Library Director Alan Engelbert said the library would still take a "little bit of a hit" financially, even if the library-funding bill passes.

"This is an attempt to come up with a uniform system statewide," Engelbert said.

The Supreme Court decision could cost the Kanawha library system 40 percent of its budget, or about $3 million. The money is about 1.5 percent of the Kanawha school system's budget.

Kanawha school board members said Monday they plan to continue funding the libraries through the end of June. But board members made no promises beyond that date.

The Kanawha County libraries face major cutbacks to materials, computer purchases and hours of operation. Sunday closures at Charleston and St. Albans libraries already have been announced. The library also has canceled this year's West Virginia Book Festival.

Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, introduced the bill to restore funding.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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