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AGO 1961 No. 83 - December 14, 1961
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- BOARD OF DIRECTORS ‑- AUTHORITY TO MAKE REPAIRS AND IMPROVEMENTS TO SCHOOL DISTRICT PROPERTY THROUGH THE DISTRICT'S SHOP AND REPAIR DEPARTMENT.

The board of directors of a school district does not have the authority under § 1, chapter 224, Laws of 1961, to make repairs and improvements to school district property, through its shop and repair department, where the total cost of the repairs or improvements will exceed the sum of $2,500.00.

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                                                               December 14, 1961

Honorable John J. Lally
Prosecuting Attorney
Spokane County
Spokane, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 83

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Does the board of directors of a school district have the authority to make improvements or repairs to school district property, through its shop and repair department, where the total cost of the improvements or repairs will exceed $2,500.00?

            We answer this question in the negative as explained in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            At its last session, our legislature passed chapter 224, Laws of 1961, an act relating to the competitive bidding procedure which must be followed byall school districts.  Section 1 of the act reads as follows:

            "When, in the opinion of the board of directors of any school district, the cost of any furniture, supplies, equipment, building, improvements or repairs, or other work or purchases will equal or exceed the sum of twenty-five hundred dollars, complete plans and specifications for such work or purchases shall be prepared and notice by publication given in at least one newspaper of general circulation within the district, once each week for two consecutive weeks, of the intention to  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] receive bids therefor and that specifications and other information may be examined at the office of the board:PROVIDED, That the board may without giving such notice make improvements or repairs to the property of the district through the shop and repair department of such district when the total of such improvements or repair do not exceed the sum of two thousand five hundred dollars.  The bids shall be in writing and shall be opened and read in public on the date and in the place named in the notice and after being opened shall be filed for public inspection.  The contract for the work or purchase shall be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder as defined in RCW 43.19.1911.  Any or all bids may be rejected for good cause.  On any work or purchase of more than five hundred dollars, the board shall provide bidding information to any qualified bidder or his agent, requesting it in person, and if more than one supplier is available, it shall seek competitive bidding in such manner as it deems in the best interests of the district.

            "In the event of any emergency when the public interest or property of the district would suffer material injury or damage by delay, upon resolution of the board declaring the existence of such an emergency and reciting the facts constituting the same, the board may waive the requirements of this section with reference to any purchase or contract:  PROVIDED, That an 'emergency', for the purposes of this section, means a condition likely to result in immediate physical injury to persons or to property of the school district in the absence of prompt remedial action."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The supreme court of this state has consistently held that where the language of a statute is plain, free from ambiguity, and devoid of uncertainty, there is no room for construction, since the meaning will be discovered from the wording of the statute itself.  State v. Houck, 32 Wn. (2d) 681, 203 P. (2d) 693 (1949).  This rule must be applied in this case.  In other words, we feel the answer to your question is to be found on the "face of the act"‑-from the language used by the legislature.

            As ageneral rule, the boards of directors are commanded by the legislature to follow the procedure prescribed for competitive bidding where the cost of improvement, repairs, purchases, etc. equals or exceeds $2,500.00.  The legislature, specifically provided, however, that the board of directors of any school district,without advertising for bids,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] could

            ". . . make improvements or repairs to the property of the district through the shop and repair department of such district when thetotal of such improvements or repair do not exceed the sum of two thousand five hundred dollars. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is quite clear from the foregoing, that school districts are authorized to make repairs or improvements on school property, through their shop departments, where the total cost will not exceed $2,500.00.  Where the total cost exceeds $2,500.00, the district is required to follow the bidding procedure prescribed unless otherwise provided by law.

            We recognize that the enactment of chapter 224, Laws of 1961, makes substantial changes in our school law.  Prior to 1961, the only provision in Title 28 RCW, relating to competitive bidding applied solely tofirst class districts.  It is interesting to note that under that statute, RCW 28.62.170, a first class district wasnot limited in the amount of work it could perform through its shop department.  See, AGO 59-60 No. 13 [[to Department of Labor and Industries on February 18, 1959]].  However, RCW 28.62.170 was repealed by § 2, chapter 224, Laws of 1961.

            While it is not legally necessary in this instance to examine the legislative history of chapter 224, Laws of 1961, (since the act is not ambiguous) nevertheless we feel it is proper, for your information, to make reference to the same.

            Chapter 224, Laws of 1961, when pending before the legislature was designated as Senate Bill No. 444.  As originally introduced, the bill authorized the board of directors through its shop and repair department to make repairs and improvements to school propertywithout any limitation as to the amount of work which could be performed.  The clause "when the total of such improvements or repair do not exceed the sum of two thousand five hundred dollars" was added to the proviso by a houseamendment to the senate bill.  Thus, it is clear that the legislature intended to restrict what originally had been the unlimited power of the board of directors to utilize its own employees when making improvements or repairs to its property.

            In closing it might be well to point out that statutes such as § 1, chapter 224, Laws of 1961,supra, requiring competitive bidding are enacted generally for the purpose

            ". . . of inviting competition, to guard against favoritism, improvidence, extravagance, fraud and corruption in the awarding of municipal contracts,  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] and to secure the best work or supplies at the lowest price practicable, and are enacted for the benefit of property holders and taxpayers, not for the benefit or enrichment of bidders, and should be so construed and administered as to accomplish such purpose fairly and reasonably with sole reference to the public interest. . . ."  (10 McQuillin Municipal Corporations, 3rd ed. § 29.29.)

            We trust 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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