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AGO 1974 No. 21 - October 23, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- FUNDS ‑- PARTICIPATION IN INTERSCHOLASTIC ATHLETIC EVENTS

(1) Some form of official action by the board of directors of a school district is required in order to authorize the district to engage in interscholastic athletic events as a part of its over-all educational program for which district funds are expended.

(2) Where a school district, at district expense, provides an athletic stadium and the various kinds of uniforms and equipment used in interscholastic athletic competition, and pays coaches' salaries, the district may charge an admission fee for attendance at athletic events by nonstudent school patrons; and it may bind itself contractually to sell reserved seat season tickets to its athletic events for several years in advance, subject to the applicable principles of law concerning the power of public officials to bind their successors in office.

(3) When the board of directors of a school district has by appropriate action authorized the expenditure of school district funds for interscholastic athletic activities, and such activities have been paid for in whole or in part out of the district's general operating funds, the directors may not permit the district's student body association to keep and utilize such gate receipts as it derives from these activities without accounting for them or reimbursing the school district funds thus expended.

(4) A school district, in lieu of purchasing athletic uniforms and equipment out of its general operating funds in accordance with AGO 1973 No. 22 [[to Elmer W. Stanley, Executive Director, Washington State School Directors' Association on October 30, 1973]], may continue to purchase those items with its student body funds.

(5) A school district may advertise its officially sanctioned athletic contests in newspapers, handbills or other programs and on radio and television stations in order to maximize gate receipts.

(6) A school district is not authorized to furnish accident insurance at district expense for its athletic team members.

(7) A school district which has made its interscholastic athletic activities a part of its over-all [[ (overall)]]educational program may, at district expense, from either general operating [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]funds or student body funds, furnish necessary meals and lodging for team and band members who, in view of the distance involved in an away-from-school trip or because of the breakdown of a school bus, are obliged to stay over-night away from home.

(8) A school district may, at district expense, furnish school letter awards to students who have participated in athletic, band, and various other activities.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                October 23, 1974

Honorable Robert V. Graham
State Auditor
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1974 No. 21

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you requested our opinion on a number of questions pertaining to the funding of interscholastic athletic activities in the public schools of our state. We paraphrase those questions as follows:

            (1) Is some form of official action by the board of directors of a school district required in order to authorize the district to engage in interscholastic athletic events as a part of its over-all [[ (overall)]]educational program for which district funds are expended?

            (2) Where a school district, at district expense, provides an athletic stadium, pays coaches' salaries, and provides the various kinds of uniforms and the equipment used in interscholastic athletic competition, may the district charge an admission fee for attendance at athletic events by nonstudent school patrons?

            (3) May a school district bind itself contractually to sell reserved seat season tickets to its athletic events for several years in advance?

            (4) When the board of directors of a school district has  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] by appropriate action authorized the expenditure of school district funds for interscholastic athletic activities, and such activities have been paid for in whole or in part out of the district's general operating funds, may the directors permit the district's student body association to keep and utilize such gate receipts as it derives from those activities without accounting for them or reimbursing the school district funds thus expended?

            (5) May a school district, in lieu of purchasing athletic uniforms and equipment out of its general operating funds in accordance with AGO 1973 No. 22 [[to Elmer W. Stanley, Executive Director, Washington State School Directors' Association on October 30, 1973]], continue to purchase those items with its student body funds?

            (6) May a school district advertise its officially sanctioned athletic contests in newspapers, handbills or programs and on radio and television stations in order to maximize gate receipts?

            (7) May a school district, at district expense, furnish accident insurance for the athletic team members who wear district-owned uniforms and equipment, play in district-owned facilities and are coached by district employees, the provisions of RCW 28A.58.420 notwithstanding?

            (8) May a school district which has made its interscholastic athletic activities a part of its over-all [[ (overall)]]educational program furnish, at district expense (from either general operating funds or student body funds), necessary meals and lodging for team and band members who, in view of the distance involved in an away-from-school trip or because of the breakdown of a school bus, are obliged to stay overnight away from home?

            (9) May a school district, at district expense, furnish the school's letter awards to students who have participated in athletic, band, and various other activities?

            We answer questions (1), (2), (5), (6), (8) and (9) in the affirmative, questions (4) and (7) in the negative, and question (3) as set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            As indicated in your letter, your present questions have arisen because of our issuance, on October 30, 1973, of AGO 1973 No. 22.  In that opinion, a copy of which is enclosed,  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] we concluded that when a public school district, through the adoption of an appropriate resolution by its board of directors, has determined to engage in organized interscholastic athletic events with other schools as a part of its over-all [[(overall)]]educational program, it may utilize its general maintenance and operation funds to pay for appropriate uniforms and equipment to be used by its students in connection with their participation in such events.

            In so concluding, we first reiterated the well-established rule that school districts, as municipal corporations, have only such powers as have been granted to them by the legislature ‑ either expressly or by necessary implication.  Juntila v. Everett School Dist. No. 24, 178 Wash. 637, 35 P.2d 78 (1934);Seattle High School Ch. No. 200 v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994 (1930).  Then we went on to acknowledge what we referred to as "a common and practically universal custom of school districts" to build and maintain playing fields and gymnasiums, to conduct physical education programs, to purchase athletic equipment, and to use such facilities in the conduct of interscholastic and other athletic events.  The questions which we will here consider can also be answered by reasoning from these two basic points.

            Before addressing ourselves to those questions, however, let us briefly explain the meaning of two terms which we will be using from time to time in this opinion ‑ the terms "general operating funds" and "student body funds."  By the first of these terms, of course, we have reference to those funds of a school district from which its basic and ordinary expenses of maintenance and operation are paid.  By the second, we have reference to the funds of any organized, officially sanctioned student body associations existing within a school district; i.e., the kinds of student body organizations which are now covered by so much of § 1, chapter 52, Laws of 1973 (RCW 28A.58.115) as defines the phrase "associated student body" to mean:

            ". . . the formal organization of the students of a school formed with the approval of and regulation by the board of directors of the school district in conformity to the rules and regulations promulgated by the superintendent of public instruction."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Such an organization as this is to be viewed as an arm and agency of the school district for the same reasons that similar student body associations have been held by this office to be agencies of the several institutions of higher learning in our state.  See, AGO 55-57 No. 267 [[to William Gissberg, State Senator on May 10, 1956]], copy enclosed.  Therefore, the revenues produced by its various activities involving the use of school facilities must be considered as revenues of the school district.  Accord,Petition of Auditors of Hatfield Tp. School Dist., 161 Pa.Super. 388, 54 A.2d 833 (1947).  In recognition of this fact, the above quoted 1973 statute then goes on to provide that:

            "The superintendent of public instruction, after consultation with appropriate school organizations and students, shall promulgate rules and regulations to designate the powers and responsibilities of the boards of directors of the school districts of the state of Washington in developing efficient administration, management, and control of moneys, records, and reports of the associated student bodies organized in the public schools of the state."

            We turn now to your questions.

            Question (1):

            First you have inquired as to the necessity for some form of official action by the board of directors of a school district in order to authorize the district to engage in interscholastic athletic activities as a part of its overall educational program for which district funds are expended.

            In our opinion, such official action is necessary for the reason that where the board of directors hasnot taken that action, it cannot be said that the school district has obtained any official sanction for the inclusion of interscholastic athletics in its educational program.  In such a case, therefore, the district would be without authority to belong to an interscholastic athletic league or to expend any money toward the league's activities and it would likewise be without authority to use any district funds1/  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] for the purchase of uniforms and equipment.

            This conclusion, however, should not be construed to require any particular form of resolution by the board of directors of a school district.  What is required is some official act on the part of the board expressing its determination to engage in interscholastic activities as a part of the district's educational program.  As a general matter it can be said that the adoption of such a board policy decision would require positive action by the board of some formal nature such as a resolution (see, e.g., 5 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, §§ 15.03, et seq.) but the adequacy of any particular form of action would have to be considered on a case‑by-case basis.

            Question (2):

            Next you have asked whether a school district which furnishes at district expense an athletic stadium, pays the coaches' salaries, and provides the various uniforms and equipment used in interscholastic athletic events may charge an admission fee for attendance at those events by nonstudent school patrons.

            We also answer this question in the affirmative pursuant to RCW 28A.58.048, which provides that:

            "Boards of directors of school districts are hereby authorized to permit the use of, and to rent school playgrounds, athletic fields, or athletic facilities, by, or to, any person or corporation for any athletic contests or athletic purposes.

            "Permission to use and/or rent said school playgrounds, athletic fields, or athletic facilities shall be for such compensation and under such terms as regulations of the board of directors adopted from time to time so provide."

            We think it can be fairly implied from this statute that since the directors of a school district are authorized to rent school playgrounds, athletic fields and other athletic facilities, they have sufficient authority to charge an admission fee for the use of seats or other viewing spaces in those facilities by the public when attending district  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] athletic events, under such terms as the directors have established by regulation.

            Question (3):

            Assuming this answer you have next asked whether a school board may bind itself contractually to sell reserved seat season tickets to its athletic events for several years in advance.2/

             We also generally answer this question in the affirmative.  Reference may be made again to RCW 28A.58.048, supra, which grants the board of directors the power to rent school facilities on such terms as it may establish by board regulation.  This answer, however, must be qualified by certain principles of law concerning the power of public officials to bind their successors in office.  The exact limitations upon the authority of a school board or other public agency in this state to make contracts binding upon future boards are not well defined.  See,Roehl v. Public Utility Dist. No. 1, 43 Wn.2d 214, 261 P.2d 92 (1953); State ex rel. Schlarb v. Smith, 19 Wn.2d 109, 141 P.2d 651 (1943);King County v. United States M. & S. Ins. Co., 150 Wash. 626, 274 Pac. 704 (1929).  However, every school board should keep in mind the possibility that its membership may change and that a future board might wish to alter its policies regarding the charging of admission to interscholastic athletic events or even to cease participation in those events at all.  It is questionable whether a future board would be bound to honor any season tickets purchased pursuant to policies established by a prior board.

            Question (4):

            We have paraphrased your fourth question as follows:

            When the board of directors of a school district has by appropriate action authorized the expenditure of school district funds for interscholastic athletic activities, and such activities have been paid for in whole or in part out of the district's general operating funds, may the directors permit the district's student body association to keep and utilize such gate receipts as it derives from those activities without accounting for them or reimbursing the school  [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] district funds thus expended?

            This question, in our judgment, must be answered in the negative.

            In the factual situation thus presented, the board of directors of a school district, having utilized its general operating funds to finance interscholastic athletic activities, would then in turn be allowing those activities to be used for the production of income in the form of gate receipts or other operating revenues.  Those revenues, in turn, as funds of the district's student body association, would have to be considered as school district revenues for the reasons explained at the beginning of this opinion.  As such, they would necessarily have to be treated as "district" revenues within the meaning of chapter 28A.65 RCW, a part of the state education code which provides for the adoption by school districts of annual budgets setting forth their entire financial programs for the ensuing fiscal year.

            RCW 28A.65.095 specifically provides that:

            "The revenue section of the final budget shall set forth the estimated receipts fromall sources for the current fiscal year, . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            RCW 28A.65.170 then states that:

            "The budget as finally adopted shall constitute the appropriations of the district for the ensuing fiscal year and the board of directors shall be limited in the making of expenditures and the incurring of liabilities to the grand total of such appropriations.  The board of directors shall make no expenditures nor incur any liability for any purpose not provided for in said budget, except for emergencies as hereinabove provided: . . ."

            Because the revenues derived from athletic events which are funded from general operating funds of a school district  [[Orig. Op. Page 9]] must be considered as revenues of the district, it therefore follows that they must be collected, budgeted and expended in accordance with the foregoing statutes.  To allow such revenues to be collected and expended outside of the official budget channels provided for therein would, in our opinion, be in violation of this statutory budget law for school districts.

            This conclusion and attendant negative answer to your fourth question, however, does not mean that all revenues derived from interscholastic athletic events financed by a school district's general operating funds must be deposited in and expended through the district's general fund ‑ as distinguished from some other district fund lawfully created for the purpose.  For instance, it may be possible, if not essential, for a school district formally to establish and utilize a "student body fund" for the purpose of financing student body activities ‑ including at least some interscholastic athletic events.  Accord, RCW 28A.58.115,supra, which (repeated for ease of reference) provides as follows:

            "As used in this section, an 'associated student body' means the formal organization of the students of a school formed with the approval of and regulation by the board of directors of the school district in conformity to the rules and regulations promulgated by the superintendent of public instruction.

            "The superintendent of public instruction, after consultation with appropriate school organizations and students, shall promulgate rules and regulations to designate the powers and responsibilities of the boards of directors of the school districts of the state of Washington in developing efficient administration, management, and control of moneys, records, and reports of the associated student bodies organized in the public schools of the state."

            Under this statute the state superintendent of public instruction may, by regulation, provide for the creation of a "student body fund" as an operating fund of each school district.  Once such a fund has been established in a  [[Orig. Op. Page 10]] given district, the board of directors of that district could finance all interscholastic athletic activities through it.  And, in turn, all operating revenues generated by such activities could be placed in that fund.

            However, to the extent that general fund moneys may also be used to finance those activities during a given fiscal year, another statute must be noted; namely, RCW 43.09.210, which provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

            "All service rendered by, or property transferred from, one department, public improvement, undertaking, institution, or public service industry to another, shall be paid for at its true and full value by the department, public improvement, undertaking, institution, or public service industry receiving the same, and no department, public improvement, undertaking, institution, or public service industry shall benefit in any financial manner whatever by an appropriation or fund made for the support of another."

            Because of this statute it will readily be seen that to the extent school district general fund moneys have been utilized to finance interscholastic athletic activities, aprorata reimbursement by the student body fund (assuming that it has initially received all operating revenues generated by those activities) will be required.  To finance interscholastic athletic activities from one fund, such as the general fund, while depositing the revenues generated by those activities under another fund (the student body fund) without reimbursing the former would be a violation of this statute, in our opinion.

            Question (5):

            Next you have asked whether a school district, in lieu of purchasing athletic uniforms and equipment out of its general operating funds in accordance with AGO 1973 No. 22, may continue to purchase those items with its student activity funds.

            We answer this question in the affirmative.  Under the authority conferred by RCW 28A.58.115, supra, and subject to such  [[Orig. Op. Page 11]] regulations as may be promulgated thereunder, it would appear to be within the discretion of the school board to require the purchase of such athletic uniforms and equipment out of student activity funds as in the past ‑ in lieu of using general fund moneys for such purchases.

            Question (6):

            Your next question inquires as to whether a school district may advertise its officially sanctioned athletic contests in newspapers, handbills or programs and on radio and television stations in order to maximize gate receipts.

            In responding to this question we turn to RCW 28A.58.610, which provides that:

            "The board of directors of any school district shall have authority to authorize the expenditure of funds for the purpose of preparing and distributing information to the general public to explain the instructional program, operation and maintenance of the schools of the district:  Provided, That nothing contained herein shall be construed to authorize preparation and distribution of information to the general public for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a school district election."

            Since we have expressed the opinion that officially sanctioned interscholastic athletic activities are an appropriate part of the over-all educational program of a school district, we think the rather broad authority conferred upon the directors of such districts by this statute extends to the types of activities contemplated in this question and, hence, we answer it in the affirmative.

            Question (7):

            By this question you have asked:

            May a school district, at district expense, furnish accident insurance for the athletic team members who wear district-owned uniforms and equipment, play in district-owned facilities and are coached by district employees, the provisions of RCW 28A.58.420 notwithstanding?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 12]]

            The statute thus cited, RCW 28A.58.420, reads as follows:

            "The board of directors of any of the state's school districts may make available liability, life, health, health care, accident, disability and salary protection or insurance or any one of, or a combination of the enumerated types of insurance, or any other type of insurance or protection, for the members of the boards of directors, the students, and employees of the school district, and their dependents.  Whenever funds shall be available for these purposes the board of directors of the school district may contribute all or a part of the cost of such protection or insurance for the employees of their respective school districts and their dependents.  The premiums on such liability insurance shall be borne by the school district.  The premiums due on such protection or insurance shall be borne by the assenting school board member or student.  All contracts for insurance or protection written to take advantage of the provisions of this section shall provide that the beneficiaries of such contracts may utilize on an equal participation basis the services of those practitioners licensed pursuant to chapters 18.22, 18.25, 18.53, 18.57 and 18.71 RCW."

            This statute is quite explicit in providing that ". . . premiums due on such protection or insurance. . ." as is provided thereunder ". . . shall be borne by the assenting school board member orstudent. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)  That language would appear explicitly to preclude a school district from furnishing accident insurance at district expense for athletic team members.

            Question (8):

            This question asks:

            May a school district which has made its interscholastic athletic activities a part of its over-all educational program furnish, at district expense (from either general  [[Orig. Op. Page 13]] operating funds or student body funds), necessary meals and lodging for team and band members who, in view of the distance involved in an away-from-school trip or because of the breakdown of a school bus, are obliged to stay overnight away from home?

            Based upon the reasoning of AGO 1973 No. 22, supra, we answer this question in the affirmative.  Once it has been officially decided by a school board to engage in interscholastic athletic activities as a part of the district's over-all educational program in accordance with the authorities which we there relied upon, it follows that the district may make such expenditures as are necessary to support and maintain student participation in those activities ‑ whether they be for the purchase of uniforms or equipment, as in our earlier opinion, or, as here, for the purchase of necessary meals and lodging occasioned by the distance involved in away-from-school trips or by unforeseen contingencies such as the breakdown of a school bus.  And, as with those for uniforms or equipment, these expenditures can be made either from general fund or student body fund monies.3/

             By the same token, we would hasten to add, this identical approach is most certainly also applicable in connection with other activities, such as debate, orchestra and chorus, field trips, and the like that have also been made an official part of a school district's educational program ‑ as opposed to what may be referred to as purely extracurricular activities.  The underlying legal theory in each case is the same, and the question is simply one of policy to be determined by each school board in establishing the parameters of its particular educational program for its students.  If the activity has been made a part of a district's educational program, those students participating in it as a part of their educational experience may then be provided, at district expense, with those things that are necessary for that participation.  In the case of a school football team or marching band, uniforms and equipment may readily be said to meet this test; and likewise, so may meals and lodging away from home when the activity involved is such as to require travel to the extent of preventing the participating students from being at home during their normal eating or sleeping times.

            Question (9):

             [[Orig. Op. Page 14]]

            Lastly, you have asked:

            May a school district, at district expense, furnish the school letter awards to students who have participated in athletic, band, and various other activities?

            We assume in answering this question that the "school letter awards" referred to are of nominal monetary value and do not constitute a payment of financial compensation to the students receiving them.  Given this assumption, and the fact that the awards are being given to students for their participation in various school activities which are related to the district's over-all educational program, it would appear to us that authority to make these types of awards can be fairly implied from the various statutes conferring upon school districts the power to provide and finance public education.  Accord, our prior opinion of August 23, 1971, to the president of Highline Community College [[an Informal Opinion AIR-2600]], copy enclosed, at pp. 7-13, in which this same issue was discussed in some detail.

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

Very truly yours,


SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


JAMES K. PHARRIS
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Including not only general operating funds but district student body funds as well.

2/In posing this question your letter described a situation in which "cash donations" of a specified amount are exchanged for reserved seats.  Since a payment is not a "donation" in a legal sense if the "donor" is entitled to receive something in return, we have paraphrased this question to eliminate any reference to donations.  We do not consider here the authority of a school district to accept true "donations" for other purposes.

3/Accord, our answer to question (5) above.

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