An entrance to Ritter Park, located in the Southside community of Huntington, West Virginia, is shown on Thursday, July 27, 2023. In 2012, Ritter Park was named one of the 10 Great Public Spaces by the American Planning Association. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)
Weeks after the Cabell County school board voted to move forward with a plan to slash funding to local libraries and parks, two agencies filed a lawsuit against the board this week.
The Cabell County Public Library and the Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District filed their complaint Thursday in Cabell County Circuit Court.
Facing a predicted $4.5 million deficit, the school board voted Aug. 1 to approve a levy plan that would zero out funding to the parks district and give the library system $195,000, a decline from the $1.7 million the libraries have been receiving under the current levy.
Huntington attorney Marc Williams, who represents the parties, said the lawsuit is directed at the payment due to the library and park district under the existing levy passed in 2018 and the school district’s decision not to put the parks district or library on the ballot when the levy is next up for renewal in 2024.
The lawsuit challenges comments made by school superintendent Ryan Saxe in the Aug. 1 meeting that, “We believe that, based on prior Supreme Court rulings, the school district cannot be compelled to provide funding for parks or libraries.” Saxe’s comments are recorded in the minutes from the board meeting.
In 2013, the state Supreme Court sided with Kanawha County Schools that the school was no longer required by law to devote part of its budget to the library there.
“Our position is that if they honestly believe that there is a legal question, the legitimacy of that levy that was approved by the voters in 2018, their obligation is not to just unilaterally decide we’re going to stop making those payments, but they should be going to court and asking a judge to declare it unconstitutional so that they can be decided by a proper authority, not just something they decide on their own,” Williams said.
The second part of the lawsuit is about the board’s decision not to put the parks district or library on the ballot in 2024 when the levy is renewed next in 2025, Williams said.
“The school board has stated that they’re not going to put the park board or the library on the ballot as part of that excess levy; they’re just going to basically keep all that money for themselves,” Williams said. “And once again, that is contrary to an existing law that has never been declared unconstitutional nor repealed.”
Williams said it’s unfortunate the park district and the library had to resort to litigation to resolve its dispute with the school board.
“But we were forced to do that because the Board of Education refused to have any conversations with us about how we could resolve this issue in a way that would benefit all of the parties,” Williams said. “As a result, if they’re going to take unilateral action and claim that that legal obligation that they have or that they’re no longer required to comply with those, we’re going to go to court to let a court decide that issue once and for all.”
Cabell County Schools did not return a phone call seeking comment.
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