Two weeks ago, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that
the Kanawha County Board of Education was not obligated to provide funding to
the county library system. That ended a decade-long dispute between the two
agencies. Money provided by the school board currently makes up about 40
percent of the Kanawha County Public Library's $8 million annual budget.
Kanawha County Public Library Director Alan Engelbert
explained the ruling and what the organization hoped to accomplish at the
“The Supreme Court
said that requiring boards of education to fund some libraries and not others
is not constitutional. So, one of the obvious solutions would be to say, ‘Let’s
have all boards of education contribute to the funding of a library,’” said
“Our funding was approximately 1.25 percent of the Board of
Education’s total operating revenue. We have a bill that’s going to be
introduced that would fund libraries across the state at one percent of board
of educations’ operating revenue. Obviously, that would cost Kanawha County
Public Library quite a bit of money. However, it would continue guaranteed
funding and it would improve library services throughout the state,” he added.
Yet it’s not just the state’s flagship library system that
might be affected by the Supreme Court ruling. In 1957, legislation was enacted
to require nine county boards of education to divert a portion of their regular
levies to support their local public libraries. Those counties also include Ohio,
Hardy, Harrison, Raleigh,
Upshur and Wood.
School boards in these counties had been required to give
three cents for every 100 dollars in assessed property to their local public
library. Libraries, themselves, do not have the authority to levy a tax the way
a board of education can.
Dottie Thomas, Director for Ohio County Public Libraries
said her organization has been funded by a local Board of Education levy since
1882. Given the recent court ruling on Kanawha
County’s funding, Thomas and her
staff are understandably worried.
“If we receive none of that funding back
it will definitely impact our operating hours, the hours we’re open, the
programming we can do, our collections—how much we can spend for library
materials—and it will also cause a reduction in staff by about 40 percent,”
Thomas said she and her staff are waiting to hear from their
local school board on the matter. However, not all of the nine county library
systems are worried. Jennifer Armistead, Director of the Clarksburg-Harrison
Public Library said that her library and others in the county have already been
contacted by their board of education.
County there are five different
libraries that benefit from dedicated funding. They are Clarksburg-Harrison, Bridgeport,
Lowe Library, Nutter Fort, and Southern Area,” said Armistead.
“If we were to lose that funding, it would just be
devastating. It ranges from 20 to 40 percent of our various budgets. Fortunately,
our school board has been very supportive. They have contacted us and let us
know that they intend continue funding us, for which we are extremely
While some counties are still waiting for a decision from
their local board of education and others have been assured not to worry,
Engelbert and the rest of Kanawha County Public Libraries are already feeling
the effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“We’re having to make
decisions on databases and reference tools all manner of—The West Virginia Book
Festival takes place in October, but we need to sign contracts for facilities
and authors and all those kinds of things right now. So, we’re having to
evaluate those things right now,” said Engelbert.
Engelbert said the library has been in talks with the
Kanawha County Board of Education about sustaining some type of funding. It
remains unknown if the school board will continue to fund them through the
current fiscal year.