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February 28, 1972
Honorable Norwood Cunningham
State Representative, 30th District
750 Alvord Avenue
Kent, Washington 98031 Cite as: AGLO 1972 No. 16 (not official)
This is written in response to your recent request for the opinion of this office on several questions pertaining to school districts. We paraphrase your questions as follows:
(1) May funds derived from the penalty assessment provided for in RCW 46.81.030 be used for any other purposes than traffic safety education?
(2) May either a local school district or the state superintendent of public instruction enter into a contract with a computer agency to program school transportation under an agreement whereby any savings accruing to the district or state by reason of the services performed by the computer agency would be divided equally between such agency and the district or state?
(3) What, if any, differences are there in the procedures to be followed by the superintendent of public instruction in reimbursing a local school district for transportation costs as between the following two situations:
(a) Where the local school district owns and operates its own school bus system; and
(b) Where the district contracts with an independent private carrier to provide transportation for the children enrolled in the schools of the district?
We answer each of these questions in the manner set forth below.
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
The governing statute with respect to your first question is RCW 46.81.030, as last amended by § 1, chapter 26, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess. The full text of this statute reads as follows:
"There shall be levied and paid into the traffic safety education account of the general fund of the state treasury a penalty assessment in addition to the fine or bail forfeiture on all offenses involving a violation of a state statute or city or county ordinance relating to the operation or use of motor vehicles or the licensing of vehicle operators, except offenses relating to parking of vehicles, in the following amounts:
"(1) Where a fine is imposed, five dollars for each twenty dollars of fine, or fraction thereof.
"(2) If bail is forfeited, five dollars for each twenty dollars of bail, or fraction thereof.
"(3) Where multiple offenses are involved, the penalty assessment shall be based on the total fine or bail forfeited for all offenses.
"Notwithstanding, the provisions contained in chapters 3.62 and 3.16 RCW, or any other section, all moneys derived from penalty assessments made under this section shall be forwarded to the traffic safety education account of the general fund of the state treasury and shall be used exclusively for traffic safety education.
"Where a fine is suspended, in whole or in part, the penalty assessment shall be levied in accordance with the fine actually imposed." (Emphasis supplied.)
The scope of the term "traffic safety education" is to be found in RCW 46.81.010, which defines "traffic safety education courses" as meaning
". . . an accredited course of instruction in traffic safety education which shall consist of three parts: Classroom instruction, laboratory experience, and observation time. 'Laboratory experience' shall include on-street, driving range, or simulator experience or some combination thereof. Each of said parts shall meet [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] basic course requirements which shall be established by the superintendent of public instruction and each part of said course shall be taught by a qualified teacher of traffic safety education. Any portions of the course may be taught after regular school hours or on Saturdays as well as on regular school days or as a summer school course, at the option of the local school districts."
On the basis of the express language appearing in these statutes, our answer to your first question must be in the negative; the funds to which this question refers may not be used for any other purpose than traffic safety education.1/
The general authority of a local school district to enter into such a contract as is described in your second question seems clear under the following provisions of RCW 28A.58.530:
"For the purpose of obtaining information on school organization, administration, operation, finance and instruction, school districts and intermediate school districts may contract for or purchase information and research services from public universities, colleges and other public bodies, or from private individuals or agencies. For the same purpose, school districts and intermediate school [district] superintendents may become members of any nonprofit organization whose principal purpose is to provide such services. Charges payable for such services and membership fees payable to such organizations may be based on the cost of providing such services, on the benefit received by the participating school districts measured by enrollment, or on any other reasonable basis, and may be paid before, during, or after the receipt of such services or the participation as members of such organizations."
Under this statute, a school district could enter [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] into a contract with a computer agency to program school transportation ‑ and if it determined an equal division of any savings to the district resulting from the activities of the computer agency to be a reasonable and equitable method of compensating the agency for its services, we would think that an agreement between the contracting parties to this effect would be legally permissible.
On the other hand, we have some difficulty in visualizing a contract such as you have described being executed between a computer agency and the state superintendent of public instruction. As we will note in more detail below in responding to your third question, the actual operation of such transportation systems as would, logically, be the subject of such a contract is exclusively a function of the various local school districts and not of the state superintendent's office. Basically speaking, the only responsibilities of the latter agency in this area are (a) the approval of transportation routes, and (b) the disbursement of appropriated state funds in reimbursement for certain costs incurred by local school districts in connection with their transportation systems. Perhaps, therefore, you would care to clarify this aspect of your second question for us if, after further consideration, you still desire to have us pursue it.
The general authority of local school districts to provide transportation of children to and from school is provided for in RCW 28A.24.055, as follows:
"Every board of directors shall provide and pay for transportation of children to and from school whether such children live within or without the district when in its judgment the best interests of the district will be subserved thereby, but the board is not compelled to transport any pupil living within two miles of the schoolhouse.
". . ."
By virtue of various provisions contained in the remainder of this statute, such transportation may be provided either through a district's operation of its own bus system or by contract with an independent carrier. Your question relates to the differences, if any, which exist under present law with regard to the procedures to be followed by the state superintendent of public instruction in reimbursing these two categories of school districts for their transportation costs.
[[Orig. Op. Page 5]]
The governing statute with respect to this question is RCW 28A.41.160, which provides as follows:
"Reimbursement for transportation costs shall be in addition to state assistance based upon weighted enrollment. Transportation costs shall be reimbursed as follows:
"(1) Operational reimbursement shall be limited to ninety percent of the service costs on routes recommended by the intermediate school district transportation commission, and as approved by the state superintendent, or shall be limited to ninety percent of the average state cost per vehicle mile for the class of vehicle approved for operation as determined by the state superintendent, whichever is the smaller; and
"(2) Costs of acquisition of approved transportation equipment shall be limited to ninety percent to be reimbursed over the anticipated life of the vehicle, as determined by the state superintendent."
You will note that this statute makes no specific distinction between contract busing and the transportation of children to and from school by means of a bus system owned and operated by the school district itself. However, the statute does distinguish between operational costs and the costs of equipment acquisition.
Thus, where a school district owns and operates its own bus system, it is to receive an operational reimbursement under subsection (1) of the statute and, in addition, a reimbursement under subsection (2) of ninety percent of its costs of acquisition with respect to approved transportation equipment. On the other hand, where a school district determines to provide busing by means of a contract with an independent carrier rather than acquiring and operating its own equipment, it will receive an operational reimbursement under subsection (1) alone ‑ because the district will have no acquisition costs in this case. However, of course, in such a case as this the district's operational costs will, in fact, be the entire sum of its agreed payments under the contract, and you should note in [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] connection with this conclusion that the same basic ninety percent rate of reimbursement is applicable to operational reimbursements made under this subsection as applies to acquisition reimbursements under subsection (2).
We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/Contra, the conclusion stated in AGO 1970 No. 12 [[to Norwood Cunningham, State Representative on June 9, 1970]](copy enclosed), which was written prior to the above noted 1971 amendment to RCW 46.81.030.