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WV Supreme Court hears oral arguments for Cabell board of education excess levy case

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WV Supreme Court hears oral arguments for Cabell board of education excess levy case

Feb 20, 2024 | 6:54 pm ET
By Caity Coyne
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WV Supreme Court hears oral arguments for Cabell board of education excess levy case
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The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals heard arguments whether a circuit court decision requiring the Cabell County Board of Education to fund parks and libraries through an excess levy approved by voters should stand on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

Attorneys for several Cabell County entities appeared in front of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on Tuesday to argue whether a circuit court decision requiring the county board of education to fund parks and libraries through an excess levy approved by voters should stand.

The arguments come from an appeal filed by the Cabell County Board of Education last year in response to a November 2023 decision from Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Gregory Howard. That decision — spurred from a lawsuit filed by the Cabell County Public Library and the Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District against the school district in September 2023 — dictated that the board of education must continue to fund both the libraries and the parks under policies passed by voters via the 2018 excess school levy. 

Barring an appeal being granted, the November ruling also means that in the 2024 election, both the public library system and the parks district must be included in the excess levy that appears on voters’ ballots.

On Tuesday, attorneys for the Cabell County Board of Education as well as for the Cabell County Public Library and the Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District reiterated their arguments on the case, the former asserting that the lower court “erred” in siding with the libraries and parks and the latter urging justices to honor that decision.

Attorney Kenneth Webb, representing the school board, argued to the Court that forcing the school district to provide funding for parks and libraries is a violation of the state constitution’s equal protection clause. Any legislation, including levies, that “obligate” a school board to fund parks and libraries differently in one county than another, he argued, would be a violation of the clause.

Since the excess levy approved by voters in Cabell County predicated that education funding provided through it would be allocated to parks and libraries in addition to the school systems, Webb argued, the funding for schools in counties across the state is not equal. He urged the justices to reverse and vacate Howard’s decision.

Attorney Marc Williams, representing the parks and libraries, argued that since the choice to adopt the excess levy and allocate the additional funding — which is separate from what is allocated in a general levy — to his clients is approved by voters, it is not subject to protections outlined in case law.

“If voters decide to act and approve an excess levy, they’re entitled to do that, they’re entitled to take that burden on,” Williams said. “Here the [Cabell County Board of Education] is taking the position that the excess funds that are to be allocated to the library and park board are theirs for the taking, and that is not the case. As long as the voters approve them, that is where the money should be spent.”

The initial lawsuit by the library and park boards was filed after the Cabell County school board voted to slash funding for the libraries and parks in the face of a $4.5 million deficit. Under a new levy plan unanimously approved by board members in August 2023, funding would have been zeroed out for the parks district and severely cut for libraries — down to $195,000 compared to the $1.7 million the libraries received under the current levy.

Following oral arguments on Tuesday, members of the state Supreme Court of Appeals will deliberate before issuing an opinion. It’s unclear when that opinion will be published.