Schools Don’t Have to Share

WHEELING – The Ohio County Public Library receives more than $500,000 – or 40 percent of its total operating budget – each year from Ohio County Schools.

But a recent ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals states school districts are no longer obligated to fund the public library in their county with a portion of the money they receive through tax levies.

Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dianna Vargo isn’t certain how the district will proceed with funding the Ohio County Public Library, as board of education members have yet to discuss the issue.

“We did budget the money for fiscal year 2013 and have been paying it,” Vargo said. “Last year, we paid the library $531,932. We haven’t created our budget yet for this fiscal year.”

There are 97 public libraries in West Virginia, according to Ohio County Public Library Director Dottie Thomas. She said of those 97 libraries, the Ohio County Library in downtown Wheeling is among only a small number of libraries in the state receiving such “dedicated funding” under law.

In 1957, legislation was enacted that required nine specific county boards of education to divert a portion of their regular levy receipts to support their local public libraries. These counties included Ohio and Tyler counties locally, as well as Kanawha, Berkeley, Hardy, Harrison, Raleigh, Upshur and Wood counties.

School boards in these counties have been required to give 3 cents for every $100 in assessed property value in the county to their local public library. Libraries, themselves, do not have the authority to levy a tax the way a board of education or other government body can, Thomas continued.

Kanawha County Board of Education filed a court case in 2003 opposing the obligation of specific school boards to turn over a portion of their levy funds to their public library, according to Supreme Court filings.

The board of education won its case before the state Supreme Court in 2006, but the court also put a stay on the ruling until the West Virginia Legislature could make changes to the law.

Thomas said lawmakers proceeded to make adjustments allowing boards of education to keep more of their local funds, and to send less back to the state Department of Education to be included for distribution through the state aid formula. The move was intended to give schools districts more discretionary funds so they could better support their local libraries, she said.

But the Kanawha County Board of Education again filed suit, stating it still was unfair that only a few, selected school districts were mandated to support their local public library. The high court again ruled in favor of the Kanawha County Board of Education on Feb. 22.

Thomas said the money the library receives from the Ohio County Board of Education equals about 40 percent of its $1.3 million budget. She noted the library’s board has yet to speak with board of education members on the matter.

“Losing that amount would mean cutting hours, current staffing levels and certainly cutting services and our materials budget,” Thomas said. “There would also be cuts to our programming budget, and that’s very important. We have made excellent attempts to provide adult and children’s programming. …

“Ohio County is so supportive of its schools. I know residents here value education, and the board of education an integral part of it,” she added. “I’m sure that will be the case, and they will continue to fund the library.”

Officials with Tyler County Schools couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.