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Kanawha school board won't withdraw library support immediately

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Kanawha County school board won't immediately withdraw all of its support for the public library system, but board members are unsure of -- or disagree on -- what a long-term arrangement will look like.

The board met Monday to discuss the matter, on the heels of a state Supreme Court decision that found a 1957 law forcing the school board to help fund the library is unconstitutional. That ruling ended a decade-long legal battle, and left library officials scrambling to come up with about $3 million -- nearly 40 percent of the library system's annual operating budget.

Michael Albert, president of the library's board of directors, made an appeal to the board, asking them to continue funding the library voluntarily.

He asked the board to continue funding the library on the same level it is now, but told board members he and other library officials are willing to "listen to any alternatives."

Library officials are looking at a slew of cost-saving measures -- to start, the main branch in Charleston and the St. Albans branch will no longer operate on Sundays. But officials are also looking for funding sources to avoid drastic cuts.

"We are looking at our operations, we're attempting to see where we can affect savings," Albert said. "But it is a long-standing and productive relationship. We want to keep it and we want to move forward."

The school board and library system have a close operational relationship, but after a decade-long legal battle, members of both boards say they welcome an open dialogue.

Robin Rector is the board's newest member -- she was elected to the school board in 2008.

"And from my early existence it's felt like we were heading down the road of a Hatfield and McCoy relationship," she said. "I'm glad we can get past that."

But even board members most vocal in their support of the library system acknowledged that the school system is facing financial difficulties of its own -- a projected $4.5 million deficit in 2014.

That deficit is partly the result of a five-year cap on the amount of money the school system can receive from an excess levy that takes effect in 2014. Board members voted unanimously to take such a levy to the voters in an effort to offer the public some tax relief, expecting the revenue stream to remain relatively steady despite the cap.

New projections that account for unexpected losses in federal funding show this isn't the case: the board is expecting a nearly $5 million budget shortfall on the first day the cap takes effect.

Most board members -- but not board President Pete Thaw, who initially proposed the cap -- have said they regret their vote to cap the levy. They have yet to take action on the issue

"You have your concerns about being able to lay your hands on funds in the long-term to support the library," board member Bill Raglin told Albert. "I submit to you that we're going to have the same problem here in a couple years ... If we keep the levy capped and don't keep the money we were going to give the library we're going to see some draconian cuts in Kanawha County schools."

The board expects to take up the matter again at its next regular meeting. Library and school board officials will be in talks in the meantime; Albert and Duerring are meeting this week.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.


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