CHARLSTON, W.Va. -- Even if the Kanawha County school board stops funding for the library system completely, the school system is on the road to a budget shortfall in 2014.
That's still a big "if" - the school board has yet to vote on a decision, and board members remain divided over ideas about the future funding relationship between the two.
The debate comes on the heels of a state Supreme Court decision that found a 1958 law forcing the school system to help fund Kanawha County Public Libraries is unconstitutional. That decision freed the school system from a relationship with the library that it argued was unfair and left the library scrambling for around $3 million - nearly 40 percent of its operating budget.
The two public entities have since been in talks, and the library system has asked the school board to continue funding the library system voluntarily. Some school board members have expressed interest in doing so on some level moving forward, though it's unclear what that relationship could look like; the board will take up the issue again at its next regular meeting on March 21.
So far, conversations about the library have been tainted with concerns over the school system's own finances: In July officials predicted a $4.5 million deficit at the start of the 2014 fiscal year, though newer figures estimate that it will be closer to $2 million. By the 2018 fiscal year the deficit could be as high as $5 million.
Those projections assume that the board will continue to fund the library at the current rate. But in a budget discussion with board members Thursday Superintendent Ron Duerring told the board that even if they elected to withdraw the library's funding completely at the start of the next fiscal year, the school system will face a nearly $500,000 budget shortfall in 2014. By 2018 projections show that number climbing to nearly $3 million.
"It's still money we didn't have before," said board president Pete Thaw.
"It is," Duerring replied. "And I'll be the first to stand up and say it doesn't hurt -- but it doesn't cure the problem."
Duerring laid out two plans that could help the board avoid the impending budget shortfall: one cuts services; the other brings more money into the system.
He proposed changes to "big ticket items" like charging students to participate in sports and extracurricular activities and increasing the student-teacher ratio, as well as less drastic cuts, like maintenance uniforms and extra programs for students.
The "elephant in the room" was the potential for proposing a new levy to the voters.
The board has considered that measure since learning of the projected deficit, a response to their decision last year to cap the school system's most recent excess levy in the name of tax relief for the public. That decision, along with other things, ushered the school system toward the impending deficit.
If a new levy were approved by voters, projections show that the school system could avoid a deficit altogether -- with or without the funding now dedicated to the library system.Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.ma...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.