Kanawha Court Battle Over Library Funding

By: Michael Hyland Email
By: Michael Hyland Email

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Kanawha County Board of Education will have to continue funding the county's library system while a court case over that funding advances, potentially to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

The school board and the library are in the midst of a court battle over millions of dollars.

If the library loses that money, it would mean deep cuts in services and job losses, managers say.

Monday’s ruling was the latest chapter in this years-long battle that gets at the heart of the issue of where the money should come from to keep the library going.

“I'm going to start crying. I know how important the library is with providing programs and materials, even computer access," children’s specialist Olivia Bradshaw said after Monday’s hearing.

“But this is very unfair. And, it's very unfair to the people of Kanawha County," said Pete Thaw, president of the Kanawha County Board of Education.

The school system is required by state law to chip in for the library.

This year that contribution will come to about $2.8 million, or 40 percent of the library's budget.

"Money is very, very tight. And, if you've noticed, we have changed our entire philosophy at the board about public money," says Thaw.

During Monday’s hearing, Kanawha school attorneys said it's unfair and unconstitutional that the county is one of a handful the state requires to give money to the library. This arrangement stems from a 1957 law.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib sided with the school board in a ruling earlier this summer.

But a sudden, massive cut would mean disaster, library managers say.

"Clearly it would have some very significant and very devastating effects," says library director Alan Engelbert.

He says those effects could include things like jobs cuts, closing branches or reducing programs.

It would also mean trouble for the fund raising effort to build the new library, Engelbert says.

As a result of Zakaib’s decision Monday, the Board of Education will have to continue monthly payments to the library while the case advances in the court system.

"Libraries are a significant contributor to the educational process. And, we think that the court should respect that," says Engelbert.

Bradshaw adds, "It's being able to have a place to go to spend family time together.”

Unlike in other states, library managers point out they don't have taxing authority.

People involved in the lawsuit say it could be a year before there's a final decision on all of this.

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