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Berkeley County BOE says old law bad for school libraries

February 19, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Empty book shelves and outdated learning resources at some of the 28 libraries in Berkeley County's school district are being attributed to a 1970 state law that some officials say unfairly diverts money to the county's public library system.

In two 3-2 votes on Monday evening, the Berkeley County Board of Education backed away from asking taxpayers to shoulder most of the school district's annual payment to the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Library Commission and instead signed off on a compromise that caps the district's allocations for three years.

The difference between the amount of money generated by a 38-year-old formula created by Senate Bill 11 and the fixed caps adopted Monday, beginning with $600,000 for the next school year, will be appropriated to school libraries and reading initiatives, according to the agreement. The school board budgeted $668,285 for the public library system this year.

Superintendent Manny P. Arvon estimated the difference could be about $200,000.

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Board President William "Bill" Queen, along with board members Richard Pill and Todd Beckwith, voted for the agreement.

They voted against a proposal to ask voters to levy additional taxes upon themselves to pay for the school district's portion of funding for the public library system.

William Norris and Patrick Murphy voted against the agreement and for the levy, which in itself would have voided the school district's formula-based obligation outlined in the 38-year-old law, which was specifically written for Berkeley County.

In addition to the school board's $668,285 for the current budget year, the library commission was allocated the same amount from the Berkeley County Commission and $113,265 from the City of Martinsburg. The County Commission has separately sought to permanently cap its funding level of the library system recently and lawmakers are attempting to change statute to make it possible.

In prepared remarks, Murphy said the average copyright year of the book collection at Martinsburg High School library was 1967.

"That was two years before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon," Murphy said. "You are more likely to find a book about Buck Rogers than Neil Armstrong."

Murphy also noted that the school's learning center has four computers that are so old that software can't be bought for them and school librarians are being forced to operate book fairs to stock shelves.

Convened at Spring Mills Middle School library on Monday, the school board was asked by Murphy to look at several empty book shelves at the four-year-old building.

"See all those open books that are on those shelves? ... (The Librarian) told me it looks neat and attractive, but her primary goal is to hide the empty shelves," Murphy said.

"In Hollywood, that is called a facade. Go back stage right over there in that area and count all of the empty library shelves in this beautiful school."

After his push for a special levy vote on the May primary ballot was defeated, Murphy explained that merely having the question on the ballot would have given the school board the authority to determine funding beyond the current year, which is $668,285.

As it stands now, "if we get down to our last dollar ... they get it right off the top," said Murphy, who emphasized he still was fully supportive of supporting the library system financially.

Queen noted that the board's struggle to resolve the funding issue was difficult and agreed that the old legislation had put the school board "under the gun."

Arvon said school administrators value the public library system, but simply need to find another funding source.

"I think the people of the library are pro-school," Arvon said. He added that he hoped library officials would still consider incorporating plans for a new North Berkeley County branch library into the yet-to-be built Spring Mills High School.

"The model is Musselman (High School)," Arvon said.

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