Welcome to 21st-century Kanawha County, where the president of the Board of Education views the public library as "parasitic."
In many communities, people in education see libraries as essential tools and the people who staff them as valuable professionals.
Not in Kanawha County.
"No longer does the library board have a parasitic relationship with us," Kanawha School Board President Pete Thaw said after the school board prevailed at the state Supreme Court on Friday.
The Supreme Court agreed that even the newer version of a 56-year-old special law funding the library is unconstitutional. Apparently, the ruling also hobbles library support in eight other West Virginia counties.
Members of the current Kanawha board have been trying to get rid of this law for a decade.
The law was created at the behest of the Kanawha Board of Education of 1957. It required the school board to set aside a fraction of its tax collections to help operate the public library. The school board appoints the majority of the library's board. The library provides services directly to schools, and operates branches within schools. The law also required smaller contributions from the city of Charleston and Kanawha County. Before the law passed, the school board provided 100 percent of the library's funding.
The law required the school board to contribute about $3 million to the operation of the library, or about 40 percent of the library's budget. That amount is only 1.25 percent of the Kanawha County schools' budget.
However inelegant the old law was, it served the community well for more than 50 years, until current school board members decided they just had to get their hands on another $3 million.
Apparently the current school board cannot run the school system on $240 million. The school board is projecting a $4.5 million budget shortfall this year.
Now that the law is declared unconstitutional, what of libraries in other counties? For years, public libraries in Berkeley, Hardy, Harrison, Ohio, Raleigh, Tyler, Upshur and Wood counties also have been funded with special acts similar to Kanawha's. Will they lose funding, too?
The current Kanawha County Board of Education clearly believes education is something that occurs only in classrooms. The rest of the community will pay for its folly.
Now that the state's highest court has rendered this devastating blow, library supporters in Kanawha and the eight other counties must launch an emergency effort to find ways to ensure survival of these precious centers of knowledge.