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AGO 1961 No. 84 - December 14, 1961
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- APPROPRIATION FOR INCREASE IN TEACHERS' SALARIES ‑- BASIS FOR COMPUTING INCREASE.

(1) Where several senior members on the teaching staff of a school district during the school year 1960-61 have retired or transferred from the district their salaries need not be considered by the district in fixing the basis on which salaries must be increased pursuant to the 1961 appropriation act.

(2) Where the salary of any classroom teacher in a district is increased beyond the amount stated in an existing contract by virtue of the increase required under the 1961 appropriation law, the contract should be amended to reflect the increase.

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                                                               December 14, 1961

Honorable R. DeWitt Jones
Prosecuting Attorney
Clark County
301 Court House

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 84

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question concerning the 1961 appropriation act as it pertains to increases in teachers' salaries.  We paraphrase your inquiry as follows:

            (1) Where several senior members on the teaching staff of a school district during the school year 1960-61 have retired or transferred from the district, must their salaries be considered by the district in determining the basis on which salaries must be increased pursuant to the 1961 appropriation act?

            (2) If it is necessary to increase the salary of any teachers beyond the existing contract figures, should the written contract be amended to indicate the increase?

            We answer question (1) in the negative as explained in our analysis; question (2) in the manner set forth in our analysis.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            You have advised us of the following facts which have given rise to your request for our opinion:

            A school district in Clark county contracted with teachers necessary to fulfill its classroom requirements and, under said contracts, there was an average increase of $320.00 per teacher.  Subsequent to the execution of the contracts, however, some of the teachers who had reached the "higher rate of pay resigned or transferred and new teachers have been employed to serve in their place."  The new teachers have started at a lower rate of pay.

            In your letter you further state:

            "I have examined AGO 61-62 No. 34 and recognize that you have already made an exhaustive study of the general problem.  However, the local district would desire that I obtain an opinion from your department since the change in their average salary payments had resulted entirely because of the retirement of teachers who had been with the district for many years and who had reached the higher levels of pay under existing schedules."

            At the outset we should like to state that you have quite correctly recognized that the particular situation with which you have been presented was not specifically considered by this office in AGO 61-62 No. 34.  However, resort to the reasoning thereof will be of assistance to us in answering your present inquiry.

            In AGO 61-62 No. 34 [[to Superintendent of Public Instruction on June 5, 1961]], this office had occasion to pass upon several questions which were submitted to us by the state superintendent of public instruction concerning that portion of the 1961 appropriation to his office relating to increases in teachers' salaries.  One of the questions asked was what meaning should be placed on the phrase "at the average rate" as used in the following proviso:

            ". . . PROVIDED, That $25,289,305 of this appropriation is intended only forsalary increases for certificated classroom teaching personnelat the average rate of $283 in 1961-62 and $333 additional in 1962-63. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            After noting there was no legislative definition of the phrase "at the average rate" set forth in the act, we concluded, therefore, that the words must be given their usual and ordinary meaning.  See,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] Miller v. City of Pasco, 50 Wn. (2d) 229, 310 P. (2d) 863 (1957); Pacific Northwest Alloys v. State, 49 Wn. (2d) 702, 306 P. (2d) 197 (1957).

            Accordingly, we stated:

            "Considering the use of the word 'average' by the legislature to modify the noun 'rate' in the proviso, and giving that word its ordinary meaning, it is our opinionthat the legislature did not intend that each certificated classroom teacher was necessarily to have his salary increased in the amount prescribed.  If such had been the intent of the legislature, language similar to that found in the 1957 appropriation relating to teachers' salaries could have been used to express such intent.  See AGO 57-58 No. 45; AGO 57-58 No. 52.  As previously stated, the only duty of the local board is to use its portion of the state funds made available to provide the salary increases at theaverage rate specifically prescribed.

            "Of course, there is one further problem which must be resolved in order to completely answer this question and that is what figure is to be used as the basis for determining the 'average' increases.  Is it the 1960-1961 average salary paid in the various school districts or is it the 1960-1961 statewide average of teachers' salaries?

            "It is our opinion that the legislature intended that the salaries of the described class of teachers should be increased during the first year of the biennium at the average rate of $283 above the salaries paid in the district during the school year 1960-1961. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            Our earlier opinion has been interpreted by the office of the state superintendent of public instruction, the office charged with the distribution of the funds appropriated, as a statement of general principles or guidelines.  Most certainly, it would be difficult if not impossible to anticipate the many questions, based on particular factual situations, which may arise and not be answered when resort is had to AGO 61-62 No. 34.

            Throughout AGO 61-62 No. 34, we stated that school districts would have to use a portion of the funds they receive from the state to provide salary increases for classroom teaching personnel "at the  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] average rate of $283."  Theincrease insalaries we concluded, as a general rule, should be based on the average salaries paid in the district the previous year.  This rule has been applied without any difficulty in districts where there has been no change in the teaching staff of the district.  However, where there has been a change in personnel, such as in the district in your county, that general rule cannot be applied without possibly absurd or unreasonable results.

            We must remember that the only object of construing a legislative act is to ascertain the meaning and intent of the legislature.  Cory v. Nethery, 19 Wn. (2d) 326, 142 P. (2d) 488 (1943).  Furthermore, a statute should receive a sensible construction, such as will effect the legislative intention, and, if possible, so as to avoid an unjust or absurd conclusion.  See,State v. Asotin County, 79 Wash. 634, 140 Pac. 914 (1914);In re Horse Heaven Irrigation District, 11 Wn. (2d) 218, 118 P. (2d) 972 (1941);State v. Lake City Bowlers' Club, Inc. 26 Wn. (2d) 292, 173 P. (2d) 783 (1946).

            With the retirement or transfer of several senior members of the teaching staff of a district, it would not be reasonable or logical to consider the salaries of these teachers in arriving at the basis or figure on which salaries are to be increased "at the average rate of $283" in the district during the school year 1961-1962.  If they were so considered, a district might, in fact, be required to raise salaries substantially beyond the $283 average.  Such was not the intent of the legislature and the amount of appropriation is not sufficient to provide salary increases in excess of the $283 average.

            Accordingly, it is the opinion of this office that where several senior members of a teaching staff of a school district during the school year 1960-1961 have retired or transferred from the district their salaries need not be considered by the district in fixing the basis on which salaries must be increased pursuant to the 1961 appropriation act.

            We are advised that the construction placed herein on the statute and our earlier opinion is the same adopted by the office of the state superintendent when questions similar to the one presented by you have been raised.  In passing it should be mentioned, lest there be any confusion concerning this matter, that the reasoning herein should be considered as supplemental to that found in AGO 61-62 No. 34.

            In respect to your second question, it is our opinion that if it becomes necessary to increase the salary of any classroom teacher in  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] the district beyond the now stated contract figure, the contract should be amended to reflect the increase.  See, RCW 28.67.070.

            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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