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Kanawha school board agrees to give library $1.9 million

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County school board members voted Thursday to contribute more than $1.9 million to help support the Kanawha County Public Library through the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The school board also voted to pursue an excess levy on behalf of the library that would bring in taxpayers' dollars to support library services past that date. The vote for the levy will come up during the November election, and is in addition to a pre-existing excess levy that supports the school system.

Both votes were 4-1, with board President Pete Thaw voting no. Thaw has long opposed funding the library with school system dollars.  

Mike Albert, president of the Kanawha County Public Library's Board of Directors, said Thursday that the $1,987,000 the school board committed to for the upcoming year would be enough to keep all of the library's branches open, but "it would be tight."

"That could carry us through the next fiscal year," Albert said.

Library branches' Sunday hours have already ended, and next year's West Virginia Book Festival was canceled in an attempt to save money.

Kanawha schools Superintendent Ron Duerring said he and library officials came to the $1.9 million figure together, and the money will come from the school system's "permanent improvement fund."

Library director Alan Engelbert agreed, saying he worked with Duerring to come up with a reasonable compromise.

In February, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school board in its decade-long funding dispute with the library, declaring that a special act that forced the school board to use money from its budget to support the library is "unconstitutional and unenforceable."

Kanawha County Schools currently gives the library about 1.25 percent of its annual budget -- or $3 million, which makes up about 40 percent of the library's entire budget. It will continue to fund the library at that level through June 30.

Engelbert said he's pleased with the school board's decision, which isn't $3 million but is "far better" than what could have been.  

"It's obviously down from the $3 million we would have [received] under the special act but it's far better than when they started, which was nowhere," Engelbert said after the meeting Thursday night.

He also said the board gave the library a "good challenge" to secure funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014.

"The funding for 2014 to 2015 is still ongoing," he said. "We'll need to have an excess levy election."

Duerring said the excess levy is a way "to support the library down the road and take the burden off the general school budget."

"We are putting ourselves at some risk because we're taking money from our permanent improvement fund, but it's needed," board member Robin Rector said.

Staff writer Travis Crum contributed to this report.

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


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