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West Virginia Supreme Court rules on public library and park board funding through school excess levy

Thank you for joining us today to discuss the recent ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court on the funding of public libraries and the park board through our public school excess levy. This decision, which supports Cabell County Schools, underscores a pivotal point: that mandating school district excess levies to finance entities beyond the public school framework is unconstitutional. As stewards of the constitution of West Virginia, every member of the Board of Education and I have sworn to provide a “Thorough and efficient system of free schools”, and uphold West Virginia State Board of Education and local educational policies and laws.

In my seven-year tenure as Superintendent of Cabell County Schools, my administration and the Board have consistently placed our students' and schools' needs at the forefront of our decisions. While there may be differences in opinion at times, our focus has always been clear: to make decisions that benefit our students. The Supreme Court's ruling is a vital step in ensuring that our public school funding remains safeguarded. We are grateful to the justices for their prompt and careful handling of this case. I also want to thank our legal counsel for their expert handling of this case.

While all school districts in West Virginia are challenged with declining enrollment and loss of federal Covid relief funding, it is important to clarify that our district faced unique challenges compared to neighboring counties, stemming from the mandated funding of essential community services through our excess levy. While our intention has always been to support the Cabell County Public Library and the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District, the prescribed funding mechanism raised significant issues of fairness and transparency. Unlike Cabell County, neighboring Putnam County, which also benefits from a 100% excess levy, is not required to fund parks or libraries, allowing them more financial flexibility, including the ability to offer higher salaries. Similarly, Wayne County schools are not mandated to support the park system, despite the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District serving areas in both Cabell and Wayne counties.

From the outset, we sought to engage in discussions for a fair compromise, recognizing the critical role these organizations play within our community. Unfortunately, early attempts at compromise were met with resistance, as the park and library administrations insisted on full funding, leaving us in a difficult position. This stance effectively limited our ability to allocate resources in a manner that we believed was most beneficial for our students and schools, placing undue strain on our budget and priorities.

The Supreme Court's decision, while legally a victory for the school district, is not a moment for celebration but rather a call to action for a more equitable and transparent approach to funding. It highlights the necessity for discretionary support mechanisms that allow for meaningful collaboration and support for our parks and libraries without compromising the primary mission of our schools.

In this spirit of cooperation, healing, and moving forward, I warmly extend an invitation to Brianna Bowen and Kathy McKenna, along with their board representatives, to meet with me tomorrow, Friday, February 23rd. This gathering is not merely a meeting; it's a step towards unity and constructive dialogue aimed at healing any rifts and collaboratively charting a course that benefits our entire community.

Our primary mission for this discussion is to explore and establish a compromise that serves the mutual interests of our schools, the parks, and the libraries. We are seeking solutions that not only address funding concerns but also enhance the valuable services these institutions provide to our students and the broader community. This is an opportunity for us to come together, share perspectives, and create a plan that reflects a shared commitment to the well-being and education of our children.

This meeting symbolizes our collective dedication to overcoming past challenges and focusing on the future—a future where cooperation and mutual support are the cornerstones of our relationship. Together, let's seize this chance to ensure that our actions and decisions are in the best interests of all parties involved, fostering a community that thrives on partnership, respect, and shared success.

In closing, I express my sincere appreciation to all parties involved in this process, especially the West Virginia Supreme Court justices, for their unwavering commitment to fairness and accountability. With this ruling as our guide, I am optimistic that we can work together to overcome challenges and strengthen our community for the benefit of all.

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to a future where we can collaboratively find solutions that serve the well-being of our students, families, and community partners.

Ryan S. Saxe, Ed.D.