THE Kanawha County library system is in a tough spot. For generations, it has received a substantial portion of its funding from the Kanawha County school system.
The arrangement worked well, considering that elementary and secondary education goes hand in hand with local libraries. In recognition of that relationship, the school system even built a public library branch into Riverside High School when it opened in 1999.
The arrangement seemed very sensible.
Except . . . the law that granted the authority for the library to receive funds through the school system didn't apply to all 55 counties. School board member Pete Thaw, a popular but caustic monitor of school system waste, objected.
Even though the school and library boards had worked together for legislative passage of this law in the 1950s, Thaw convinced the board to challenge the law in court, rather than to seek a legislative change.
The state Supreme Court ruled it to be unconstitutional, ending — as Thaw described it — the library's "parasitic relationship" with the school system.
Suddenly, the library faced a big funding issue. "No problem," school board members other than Thaw said. "We'll put a new excess levy on the ballot for the library along with a big new batch of school funds."
Meanwhile, the school board failed to justify to voters its portion of the excess levy and barely bothered to even promote it. Come election time last November — surprise — the levy failed. Badly.
Now, the library system is facing a major loss of funds when the current fiscal year ends after June.
With no levying powers of its own, the library system board this week voted to approach Kanawha County Schools for a library-specific levy in the November 2014 general election. The library's only other option is asking the county commission to hold a levy election, but Commissioner Kent Carper has already stated his distaste for a library levy on the May 2014 primary election ballot.
So a library-only levy election or significant reduction of services are the only options for the library system. Granting their request is the least the school board can do, considering it caused the library's problems.