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AGO 1961 No. 20 - March 30, 1961
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOL ‑- ATTENDANCE OF NONRESIDENT PUPILS IN HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS.

In the absence of an agreement, a high school district may charge the parents of elementary or secondary students of another high school district, either adjoining or nonadjoining, a reasonable tuition for attending school in its district.

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                                                                  March 30, 1961

Honorable Louis Bruno
State Superintendent of PublicInstruction
Old Capitol Building
Olympia, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 20

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on the following question:

            When two high school districts are adjoining, and pupils of either attend elementary or secondary classes as nonresident pupils in the other, may the district educating the pupils charge their parents a reasonable tuition?

            We must answer this question in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            In every case wherein the authority of a school district is questioned we must keep in mind that a school district is a municipal corporation and, as such, has only those powers which are expressly granted by the legislature, those necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to the powers granted, and those essential to the declared objects and purposes of the district.  Seattle High School Ch. No. 200 v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994 (1930);Juntila v. Everett School Dist. No. 24, 178 Wash. 637, 35 P. (2d) 78 (1934).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            At the outset, it should be noted that the legislature has provided that a child coming within the purview of the compulsory attendance law shall "attend the public school of the districtin which the child resides for the full time the school is in session . . ." (Emphasis supplied.) Section 1, subchapter 16, Title III, chapter 97, Laws of 1909 (cf. RCW 28.27.010).  In respect to secondary education, § 9, chapter 21, Laws of 1917 (cf. RCW 28.58.230) provides as follows:

            "Every high school in the high school district shall admit all persons of school age who are residents of this state, and not residents of another high school district, carrying the grades for which they desire to enroll, upon presentation of satisfactory evidence of having completed in a creditable manner the state eighth grade course of study as prescribed by the state board of education:  Provided, That nothing in this act shall be construed as affecting section 4484 of Remington & Ballinger's Annotated Codes and Statutes of Washington."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The session law of source of 4484 Remington & Ballinger's Annotated Code (R.R.S. 4780) is § 1, chapter 44, Laws of 1921.  (Cf. RCW 28.58.240; RCW 28.58.250.) It reads in pertinent part as follows:

            ". . . Any board of directors shall have power to make arrangements [1]with adults wishing to attend school, or [2]with the directors of another district, for the attendance of such children, in the school of either district as may be best accommodated therein:  Provided That in case [a] such arrangements are not made or [b] children from school districts not adjoining desire to attend school in their districtthey may charge reasonable tuition for such attendance:  Provided further, That all such money collected by any school district officer for the use of the district shall, within thirty days after the date of its collection, be turned over to the county treasurer and placed to the credit of the district: . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Our court has said many times that the primary rule to be followed in construing a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn. (2d) 390, 191 P. (2d) 858 (1948);McKenzie v. Mukilteo Water District, 4 Wn. (2d) 103, 102 P. (2d) 251 (1940).  In arriving at the intent of the legislature, a statute should, if possible, be so construed that no clause, sentence or word shall be superfluous, void, or insignificant.  Group Health Etc. v. King Co. Med. Soc., 39 Wn. (2d) 586, 237 P. (2d) 737 (1951).  See also,The Department of Labor & Industries v. Cook, 44 Wn. (2d) 671, 269 P. (2d) 962 (1954).

            Applying these rules, it is apparent that, under § 1, chapter 44, Laws of 1921 (cf. RCW 28.58.240; RCW 28.58.250) supra, the board of directors of a school district may make arrangements with [1] adults wishing to attend school; or [2] the directors of any other (another) district for the attendance of children in the schools of either district.  However, if no arrangements are made "or children from school districts not adjoining desire to attend school in their district they may charge reasonable tuition for such attendance."  By a literal construction we might conclude that children from an adjoining district could not be charged tuition even though no agreement had been reached by the boards of directors of the districts in question.  However, such construction would do violence to the intent gleaned from a reading of the entire statute.  For this reason we must consider, as a matter of law, that the statute has a doubtful or ambiguous meaning; therefore, we must adapt a construction that is liberal and which is in furtherance of the obvious or manifest purpose of the legislature.  SeeState v. Rinkes, 49 Wn. (2d) 664, 306 P. (2d) 205 (1957).

            Thus, it is our opinion that the manifest intent of the above statute is to allow the boards of directors of two or more districts to make arrangements in respect to the attendance of children in schools other than in their resident district and, in the absence of such agreement, a reasonable tuition fee may be charged to children ofadjoining as well as nonadjoining districts.  This conclusion is in accord with an opinion written to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, dated November 7, 1917 (AGO 17-18 No. 958) [[1917-18 OAG 199]]a copy of which is enclosed.

            Accordingly, in the absence of an agreement a high school district may charge the parents of elementary or secondary students of another high school district a reasonable tuition for attending school in its district.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We recognize that this conclusion appears to render the phrase "or children from school districts not adjoining" superfluous.  Be that as it may, we do not feel that we can reasonably construe the statute otherwise.  In any event, we believe that the construction we have adapted is clearly supported by the legislative history of the enactment.  In § 42, chapter 118, Laws of 1897, the provision in question reads as follows:

            "Any board of directors shall have power to make arrangements with adults wishing to attend school or with the directors of an adjoining district for the attendance of such children in the school of either district as may be best accommodated therein:  Provided, That in case such arrangements are not made, or children from school districts not adjoining desire to attend school in their district, they may charge reasonable tuition for such attendance: Provided further, That all moneys collected by any school district officer for the use of the district, shall, within thirty days after the date of its collection, be turned over to the county treasurer and placed to the credit of the district."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Two years later, in § 8, chapter 142, Laws of 1899, the legislature amended the above statute by changing only one word.  The wordanother was substituted for the word adjoining.  The significance and effect of this amendment without a further amendment of the language concerning "districts not adjoining" created the problem which prompted your inquiry.

            As previously stated, our conclusion is in accord with the intent evidenced by a reading of the whole statute, omitting what we consider to be an obvious error in drafting the 1899 amendment.  Under the circumstances, we feel justified in applying the following rule found in 2 Sutherland, Statutory Construction, § 4926, p. 462:

            "A majority of the cases permit the elimination or disregarding of words in a statute in order to carry out the legislative intent."

            See also,Pressman v. State Tax Commission, 204 Md. 78, 102 A. (2d) 821, 828 (1954);Basham v. Southeastern Motor Truck Lines, Inc. 184 Tenn. 532, 201 S.W. (2d) 678 (1947); Asher v. Stacy, 299 Ky. 476, 185 S.W. (2d) 958 (1945);State ex rel. Smith v. Atterbury, 364 Mo. 963, 270 S.W. (2d) 399, 404, (1954);McKay v. Department of Labor & Industries, 180 Wash. 191, 194, 39 P.  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] (2d) 997 (1934), which are cited and discussed in AGO 59-60 No. 120 (pp. 13-15) [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Kitsap County on May 31, 1960]]a copy of which is also enclosed for your information.

            We specifically overrule AGO 55-57 No. 204 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Grant County on February 21, 1956]]insofar as it is in conflict with the views expressed herein.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBERT J. DORAN
Assistant Attorney General

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