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Kanawha school board continues library funding discussions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Kanawha County school board members have discussed the county library nearly every time they've met since Feb. 22. But they have yet to reach many decisions.

At a budget meeting Tuesday, board members weren't opposed to the idea of letting the library take a property tax to voters under the school system's umbrella (the school system can seek an excess levy from voters, but the library can only do so with their help).

But they haven't finalized anything yet -- they'll discuss it further at their regular meeting next week.

School board members agreed last month to fund the library through this fiscal year, which ends in June. But June is rapidly approaching and they haven't come up with a plan for the months that follow.

Now, the school board is digging into its budget, looking to firm up its plans for the next fiscal year. And that means firming up plans in relation to the library system.

Current projections show the school system running a balanced budget next year and putting away about $1.4 million extra for facilities projects in coming years.

But the picture is, in fact, more complicated than that. It's muddled by two things: the school system's unclear relationship with the county library system, and their own uncertain financial future.

A February state Supreme Court decision that found a 1958 law forcing the school system to help fund Kanawha County Public Libraries is unconstitutional, freeing the school system from a relationship that it felt was unfair. 

But as the library scrambled to come up with $3 million -- nearly 40 percent of its operating budget -- the school system has been subjected to a public backlash and calls for the school system to continue funding the library voluntarily.

Most members of the school board seem inclined to continue to help funding the library for at least another year, on some level.

At a budget meeting Tuesday, board member Robin Rector suggested they try to come up with half of their current contribution -- or about $1.5 million -- and asked superintendent Ron Deurring to bring the board a proposal to come up with that money.     

Bill Raglin, another board member, doesn't think that's enough.

"I don't think that, realistically, they could survive on that," he said.

"If you toss a man a life jacket made out of lead, he goes ahead and drowns."

President Pete Thaw remained, as always, opposed to the idea of funding the library beyond June.

"That's a million-dollar life jacket," he told Raglin Tuesday. "I'll take one."

Discussion of the library situation is all taking place against a backdrop of financial uncertainty for the school system.

In part because of the board's decision last year to place a cap on the amount of money it could collect from property taxes - a move they made in the name of tax relief for citizens - the school system is facing a deficit by the 2014-2015 fiscal. Projections show that deficit climbing to nearly $3 million by 2018.

Because of that impending deficit, at least some members of the school board are in favor of asking the voters to approve another property tax for the school system - on top of the one that would benefit the library.

Thaw vehemently opposes the idea and logistics remain a concern - seeking that tax would require a special election, at a cost of $300,000 to the school board - and the board has yet to commit to the action.

They'll discuss that, also, at their regular meeting on Thursday.

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


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