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Don’t Defund the Public Library

This past Monday, by a 3-2 vote, the Ohio County Board of Education chose to reduce funding to the Ohio County Public Library, from an annual allocation of $884,547 to $589,698. Voting to partially defund the library were board members David Croft, Molly Aderholt and Christine Carder.

At that same meeting, board members agreed to solicit bids for lighting, restrooms and storage for a new sports field being built next to Wheeling Park High School, projects that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For decades, the Ohio County Board of Education has given 3 cents of every dollar in property taxes to help fund the library. From the 1950s through 2012, that allocation was stipulated in state code. However, the West Virginia Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the legal requirement for the funding.

From 2013 until now, members of the county board of education, noting the value the library provides in helping the school system educate students, have left that funding source in place. That’s changed, and it has resulted in a funding cut to the library of $294,849, more than 14% of the organization’s annual operating budget. That will lead to less library outreach and fewer resources to patrons, director Dottie Thomas told our reporter.

The board’s justification for the funding cut is that the $76 million in bond projects currently underway in Ohio County Schools is over budget. For the record, the $294,849 to be taken away from the library is less than .4% of the bond project’s total — yes, less than four-tenths of one percent! Also, the $294,849 is less than .45% of the school system’s total operating budget of $66 million.

If the situation is what the board says it is with the bond project, that every last penny is going to count in making sure all items on the administration’s wish list get completed, and that all the add-ons such as sports fields, lighting for sports fields and new locker rooms that serve some but not all students truly are more necessary than funding the library, which is open and available to all students, here’s a question the three board members who voted to reduce funding to the library need to answer: was there a thorough review done of the district’s staffing levels — particularly with administrators — to see if $294,849 could be found to help save the bond projects?

Here’s another question: Were the over-budget building projects thoroughly scrutinized to see how, or if, they could be done more efficiently?

Or was the funding for the Ohio County Public Library simply an easy target for the board to raid for, as Croft told our reporter, new locker rooms?

That seems to us to be the case.

Libraries are magical places, particularly for young children just starting to understand the world around them. Many of the students who have excelled academically in Ohio County Schools got their start with story time and other children’s programs at the library.

It would bode well for the board to remember that. We call on the board of education to restore full funding to the library as soon as possible. Locker rooms and lighting for a sports field that were not even part of the original bond package are a poor excuse to damage one of our city’s finest treasures.

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