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AGO 1965 No. 22 - June 08, 1965
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- CERTIFICATED AND NONCERTIFICATED EMPLOYEES ‑- SALARY ‑- STATE APPROPRIATION FOR INCREASES.

(1) School districts are required to grant salary increases in the percentages specified in § 1, chapter 169, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., "subject to the availability of funds for all district functions."

(2) Same: The prescribed percentage increases are to be determined on the basis of the average salary in the individual districts.

(3) Same: The percentage increase need not be granted to each employee of the district but the "average" salary increase must be in the percentage specified "subject to the availability of funds for all district functions."

(4) The basis for computing the percentage increase for the 1966-67 school year is the average salary paid in the district in the 1964-65 school year.

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

                                                                    June 8, 1965

Honorable Frank B. Brouillet
State Representative, 25th District
619 7th Avenue S.W.
Puyallup, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 22

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on several questions concerning the appropriation made by the 1965 legislature for school district employees' salaries.  We have paraphrased your questions as follows:

            (1) Are school districts required to grant salary increases in the percentages specified in § 1, chapter 169, Laws of 1965, Ex Sess.?

            (2) In prescribing percentage increases "at an average level," does this section contemplate increases based upon a state average or upon a district average?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (3) Is the prescribed percentage increase to be granted to each employee of the district?

            (4) What is the basis for computing the percentage increase for the 1966-1967 school year?

            We answer your questions as explained in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Chapter 169, Laws of 1965, is the state's general appropriation act.  As a part of the appropriation made to the superintendent of public instruction, there are included the following pertinent provisions relating to the salaries of district employees:

            ". . . PROVIDED, That of this amount Forty Nine Million Two Hundred Thousand dollars is the estimated cost of improvements in salaries at anaverage level of five per cent in 1965-1966 and six per cent additional in 1966-1967 for certificated school personnel and of five per cent in 1965-1966 and five per cent additional in 1966-1967 for non-certificated school personnel:  PROVIDED FURTHER, That it is the intent of the legislature that subject to availability of funds for all district functions, school districts shall improve salaries by said percentages and the Superintendent of Public Instruction is directed to report to the 1967 Legislature on the average salary increase granted by each district under this provision."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In determining legislative intent, the first rule of statutory construction is, of course, where the language of the statute is plain, clear, unambiguous and well-understood according to its natural and ordinary sense, the statute itself furnishes the rule of construction beyond which the court cannot go.  Seattle v. Ross, 54 Wn.2d 655, 344 P.2d 216 (1959);Parkhurst v. Everett, 51 Wn.2d 292, 318 P.2d 327 (1957).  See, also, AGO 61-62 No. 34 [[to Louis Bruno, State Superintendent of Public Instruction on June 5, 1961]]and AGO 57-58 No. 327 (1957).  See, also, AGO 61-62 No. 34 and AGO 57-58 No. 52 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Pacific County on April 23, 1957]].

            Question (1)

            Giving the ordinary meaning to all the words and phrases  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] set forth above, we believe that school districts are required, subject to the availability of total district revenues, to grant the specified increases.

            It is quite obvious that the first proviso quoted above gives only an estimate of costs necessary to improve salaries in the stated percentages for the next biennium.  There is no specific direction, limitation or restriction that salaries be improved by this amount.

            The second proviso quoted above clearly gives the legislative direction to school districts to improve salaries by this amount, but only if the availability of "funds for all district functions" makes it possible.  This language is undoubtedly plain, clear and unambiguous, but this conclusion is additionally supported by the clear application of the final clause of the second proviso.  Therein the legislature has directed the state superintendent of public instruction to report on the "average" increases actually granted in each district.  If the legislature had specifically directed a five per cent increase, a five per cent increase would have had to be granted (see AGO 61-62 No. 34, relating to the mandatory increases granted by the 1961 legislature) and there would be no need to determine the actual "average" increases.

            Question (2)

            Your second question is whether the increases computed "at an average level" are to be computed upon the state or district average.

            A point of practical inquiry in any problem of statutory construction is the consideration of the whole provision.  A statute is governed by one general purpose and intent.  Consequently, each part should be construed in connection with every other part so as to produce a harmonious whole.  See,In re Bracken's Estate, 56 Wn.2d 17, 351 P.2d 151 (1960).

            Thus, reading all the provisos or parts relating to salary increases as a whole, it is our opinion that the legislature intended that the salaries of employees of each school district should be increased at an average level of five per cent the first year of the biennium over the salaries paid by the district during the 1964-65 school year.

            Not only does this construction appear to be consistent with  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] the stated intent and plain language of the statute, but it is the only logical intent which can be attributed to the legislature.  Not only is there no way for each district to know the state‑wide [[statewide]]average, but also the use of astate‑wide [[statewide]]average would produce absurd results.  Many districts are above the state average, and thus there would be no salary increases in these districts, a result rendering superfluous the admonition to all districts to "improve salaries by said percentages."  No statute should be construed so as to render any clause or phrase superfluous, void or insignificant.  See,Public Hospital Dist. No. 2 v. Taxpayers, 44 Wn.2d 623, 269 P.2d 594 (1954).

            In many other districts which are far below the state average, an increase of five per cent based upon the state average would result in an enormous district percentage increase with an extremely large over-all dollar increase in terms of their total budgets.  A statute must be construed so as to avoid unlikely, strained or absurd results.  See,Alderwood Water Dist. v. Pope & Talbot, 62 Wn.2d 319, 382 P.2d 639 (1963).

            Thus, state funds have been made available to school districts to increase salaries.  Each district, subject to other qualifications, must increase salaries "at an average level" of five per cent the first year of the biennium.  It seems to follow, based upon a reading of all the related language, avoiding any absurd results, and giving meaning to all the phrases, that this average must be based upon the average salary in the individual districts during the 1964-1965 school year.

            Question (3)

            Your third question is whether the percentage increase is to be granted to each employee of the district.  In our opinion that question must be answered in the negative.

            When the legislature does not define a word used in a statute, it is to be given its ordinary meaning.  Union Oil Co. v. State, 2 Wn.2d 436, 98 P.2d 660 (1940).  Considering the use of the word "average" and giving this word its ordinary meaning, it is obvious that the legislature did not intend that each employee should have his salary increased by a specified percentage.  Such a construction would be clearly inconsistent with the use of the word "average" and, in fact, inconsistent with the entire last proviso quoted above.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            It must be noted at this point that the construction we have given the word "average" is consistent with the previous construction we have given this word in prior opinions dealing with the raises of school district salaries.  Furthermore, this construction has been adopted by the superintendent of public instruction in distributing salary-increase funds.  The construction thus given to such a statute by an officer charged with its administration, although not binding upon the courts, is entitled to considerable weight in determining legislative intent, and the persuasive force of such interpretation is strengthened when the legislature, by its failure to amend without repudiating such construction, acquiesces in the interpretation.  White v. State, 49 Wn.2d 716, 306 P.2d 230 (1957).

            Question (4)

            Your fourth question is whether the "additional" six per cent increase for certificated personnel and five per cent increase for noncertificated personnel for the second year of the biennium (1966-1967) is to be based upon the 1964-1965 average, as is the increase for the first year of the biennium, or upon whatever average may be established in the 1965-1966 school year.

            In making an appropriation of this nature, the legislature has given the authority ". . . to the proper officers, to apply a distinctly specified sum from a designated fund out of the treasury, in a given year, for a specified object or demand against the state . . ." 42 Am.Jur., Public Funds, § 43, page 747; see, also,State ex rel. Pub. Co. v. Lindsley, 3 Wash. 125, 127, 27 Pac. 1019 (1891); and AGO 61-62 No. 34.

            It would follow, therefore, that the only amount necessary to raise salaries an average of five per cent in each district for the year 1965-1966 may be expended from the fund during that year.  The remainder must be reserved for expenditures the next year.  This is to be an average of 5 or 6 per cent "additional," depending upon the class of employee in question.  We believe this to be an express direction, subject to the availability of funds, to (1) raise salaries of certificated personnel on the average of 11% over the next two years, and (2) to raise the salaries of the noncertificated personnel on the average of 10% over the next two years.  We do not believe it is the intention of the legislature to raise salaries 11.3% and 10.25% over the next two years, which would be the result if a compound percentage were used.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            In this regard we are advised that if the appropriated funds are in fact used as directed in the first year of the biennium, the portion reserved for the second year will be insufficient if the average used as a base for second year increases, is the newly established 1965-1966 district average.  We regard this fact to be of great significance, for it must be presumed that the legislature knew such to be the fact, and it cannot be presumed that the legislature would indulge in a useless act.  Kelleher v. Ephrata School Dist. No. 165, 56 Wn.2d 866, 355 P.2d 989 (1960).

            We can, therefore, only conclude that the additional 6% increase for certificated personnel and the 5% increase for noncertificated personnel for the second year of the biennium are each to be based upon the 1964-1965 average as is the increase for the first year of the biennium.

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

BRUCE W. COHOE
Assistant Attorney General

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