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AGO 1975 No. 13 - June 10, 1975
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington


A board of county commissioners receiving federal forest funds under RCW 36.33.110 is not authorized or directed by that or any other statute to distribute any portion of those funds to a joint school district belonging to another county but lying partially within the county receiving the funds.

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                                                                   June 10, 1975

Honorable E. R. Whitmore, Jr.
Prosecuting Attorney
Chelan County
P.O. Box 1622
Wenatchee, Washington 98801

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1975 No. 13

Dear Sir:

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

            "Are county commissioners authorized and directed annually to distribute not less than 50% of forest reserve funds to joint school districts which lie partially within the county but belong to another county?"

            We answer this question in the negative.


            A "joint school district" is one composed of territory lying in more than one county.  See, RCW 28A.57.230.  Another section of the same code chapter, RCW 28A.57.250, then provides that:

            "For all purposes essential to the maintenance, operation, and administration of  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] the schools of a district, including the apportionment of current state and county school funds, the county in which a joint school district shall be considered as belonging shall be as designated by the state board of education.  Prior to making such designation, the state board of education shall hold at least one public hearing on the matter, at which time the recommendation of the joint school district shall be presented and, in addition to such recommendation, the state board shall consider the following prior to its designation:

            "(1) Service needs of such district;

            "(2) Availability of services;

            "(3) Geographic location of district and servicing agencies; and

            "(4) Relationship to contiguous school districts."

            Your question postulates the case of a joint school district "belonging" to Okanogan county under this statute but lying partially within Chelan county.  RCW 28A.57.250 is not itself determinative of the question, however, because the funds involved are neither "current state" nor "county" school funds.  Instead, they are funds derived from the federal government under the following provisions of 16 U.S.C. § 500:

            "Twenty-five per centum of all moneys received during any fiscal year from each national forest shall be paid, at the end of such year, by the Secretary of the Treasury to the State in which such national forest is situated, to be expended as the State legislature may prescribe for the benefit of the public schools and public roads of the county or counties in which such national forest is situated:  Provided, That when any national forest is in more  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] than one State or county the distributive share to each from the proceeds of such forest shall be proportional to its area therein.  In sales of logs, ties, poles, posts, cordwood, pulpwood, and other forest products the amounts made available for schools and roads by this section shall be based upon the stumpage value of the timber."

            In view of the language of this statute it appears to us that an affirmative answer to your question could be supported from the standpoint of federal law if our state legislature were to so provide ‑ insofar as any joint districts having school facilities within the subservient county are concerned.  And, perhaps, that would be a fairer approach as a matter of policy.  As a matter of law, however, we believe that under the existing state statute implementing 16 U.S.C. § 500,supra, your inquiry must be answered in the negative.

            RCW 36.33.110, as last amended by § 1, chapter 140, Laws of 1967, provides that:

            "The state treasurer shall turn over to the treasurers of the counties within United States forest reserves, the amount of money belonging to them, received from the federal government from such reserves, in accordance with Title 16, section 500, United States Code.  Where the reserve is situated in more than one county the money shall be distributed in proportion to the area of the counties interested, and to that end the state treasurer is authorized and required to obtain the necessary information to enable him to make the distribution on such basis.

            "County commissioners of the respective counties to which the money is distributed are authorized and directed annually to distribute not less than fifty percent of said moneyto each school district within each such county according to the proportional number of weighted students enrolled  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] in each such school district during the immediate preceding school year as certified by the county school superintendent of schools or the intermediate district superintendent of schools as the case may be:  Provided, That if any such school district would suffer a decrease in its total revenue as the result of receipt of said money, such district may refuse its proportional share and the county commissioners shall thereupon redistribute such proportional share to the remaining districts in the county.  The county commissioners shall expend the balance of said money for the benefit of the public roads of such county, and not otherwise."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            If this statute merely spoke of schools within a county, and notschool districts within each such county, it could be read to entitle a district to some share of a county's federal forest funds if that district was operating any schools physically situated in that county even though the district might "belong" to another county under RCW 28A.57.250,supra.  See, RCW 28A.01.060 which, in defining the term "common schools," appears to distinguish between "schools" and "school districts."1/   At least, such alternative wording would render the statute ambiguous on that count.2/   However, it seems to us that the present wording of  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] RCW 36.33.110 effectively precludes us at this time from reaching that result.  While aschool building may be within one county even though the district which conducts school there "belongs" to another county, the district itself will not be "within" the subservient county in such a case.  Rather, we would view such district as being within the county to which it belongs in accordance with the determination of the state board of education under RCW 28A.57.250, as quoted at the outset of this opinion.

            Had the 1967 legislature which enacted the current text of RCW 36.33.110 intended something different, it would have been a simple matter for it to have amended the language in question to provide that the funds involved should be distributed ". . . to each school district or joint school district located wholly or partly within each such county . . ."  Similarly, it would also seem to us that if the legislature had intended by its use of the term "within the county" to provide for the distribution of federal forest funds to a joint school district having territory within a certain county while belonging to another, it logically would have gone on to provide for an apportionment of those funds solely on the basis of the number of weighted students residing in that portion of the district which is situated in the county distributing the funds.  In other words, had the legislature intended that some portion of a county's federal forest funds should be distributed to a joint school district lying partially within that county but belonging to another, it would have then provided for the distribution to such a district of an amount related only to the number of weighted students residing within the county in question ‑ as opposed to a formula, which, on its face, would appear to entitle each district to an amount of money equated to its total number of weighted students even though many of them reside in an adjacent county.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            In summary, therefore, it is uncertain whether we would now come to the same conclusion as was reached by this office in its earlier opinion on the subject, AGO 61-62 No. 161,supra, had RCW 36.33.110 not been amended in the meantime.  Because of that amendment your present question must, in any event, be answered in the negative.  Federal forest funds allocated to a given county may not be distributed to a joint school district which lies partially within that county but belongs to another county.

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

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/"'Common schools' means schools maintained at public expense in each school district and carrying on a program from kindergarten through the twelfth grade or any part thereof including vocational educational courses otherwise permitted by law."

2/Nevertheless, as you have pointed out in your request the subject statute did at one time speak of the "public schools. . ." of a county rather than "school districts" within each county (as now) and yet even then this office opined that:

            ". . . from the statute as a whole it seems sufficiently clear that the legislature did not intend to allow the expenditure of county funds (including federal forest funds) on school facilities of a joint district by other than the county to which the joint district belongs, under RCW 28.57.250 et seq."  See, AGO 61-62 No. 161 [[to Alf M. Jacobsen, Prosecuting Attorney, Klickitat County on September 5, 1962]], copy enclosed, at p. 5.

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