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AGO 1966 No. 102 - August 09, 1966
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- EXPENDITURE OF PUBLIC FUNDS ‑- PUBLICATION ‑- INFORMATIONAL BULLETINS FOR DISTRIBUTION TO GENERAL PUBLIC ‑- DISTRIBUTION TO PARENTS OF CHILDREN ATTENDING SCHOOLS ONLY.

(1) A school district has not been authorized by the legislature either expressly or by implication to expend district funds or utilize its school facilities or employees for printing and mailing a bulletin, the purpose of which is to influence a favorable result in a school election.

(2) A school district does not have express or implied statutory authority to expend its funds or utilize its facilities or employees for printing and mailing a bulletin, the purpose of which is to provide general information to the inhabitants of the district or the general public (and not merely the students and/or parents) about the district's public schools and school programs.  However, the district may by letter, mimeographed or printed bulletin publish and disseminate such information of a general or special interest to students and to parents of children attending or about to attend school in the district (as distinguished from a publication designed to influence a particular vote at an election).

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

                                                                  August 9, 1966

Honorable James Munro
Prosecuting Attorney
Kitsap County
515 Sixth Street
Bremerton, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 102

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on several questions which we have combined and paraphrased as follows:

            1. May a school district legally expend its funds, or utilize its school facilities or employees, for printing and mailing a bulletin, the purpose of which is to influence a favorable result in a school election?

            2. May a school district expend its funds or utilize its facilities or employees for printing or mailing a bulletin,  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] the purpose of which is to provide general information to the inhabitants of the district or the general public about the district's public schools and school programs?

            We answer your first question in the negative and your second question as set forth in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Before discussing the specific questions you have asked, it may be helpful to begin with a general discussion of powers of school district boards of directors.

            As we have pointed out in many previous opinions, school districts have been created by legislative authority, and have been recognized by the decisions of the supreme court to be municipal corporations.  Accordingly, a school district has only those powers expressly granted to it by the legislature, those which are necessarily implied from the powers granted, and those essential to the declared object and purposes of the municipal corporation.  See, for a summary of authority on the question of these powers, AGO 59-60 No. 105, and AGO 59-60 No. 116, copies of which are enclosed.

            The answer to your first question may be found in a previous opinion to the prosecuting attorney of Adams county, dated May 5, 1953, (AGO 53-55-33) [[AGO 53-55 No. 33]], a copy of which is enclosed.  In that opinion the question asked was:

            "Is the cost of printing and distributing a brochure describing a proposed gymnasium, the financing of which was the proposition to be voted upon at a special election, a valid claim against the school district?"

            Answering the question in the negative, we summarized prior opinions of this office, concluding:

            ". . . that a school board may not authorize the school printing plant to provide the electors with information concerning a special school election, . . ."

            We specifically concluded that such expenditures were not allowable without statutory authority, and that the cost of printing and distributing the brochure in question was not an allowable claim against the school district because it did not fall within the scope of powers expressly or impliedly  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] delegated to school boards.  See, also, for a similar discussion and conclusion, our previous opinion to the prosecuting attorney of Spokane county, June 30, 1950 [[AGO 49-51 No. 292]], a copy of which is also enclosed.

            Our research has disclosed no change in the statutory powers of school districts, which would justify a conclusion other than the conclusion expressed in these several prior opinions of this office on the subject.  Accordingly, we adhere to that conclusion, answering your first question in the negative.

            Your second question, which we have paraphrased for brevity, was stated in your letter as follows:

            ". . . does a School District have the legal right to use funds which are provided for education to print a news bulletin which is not intended to carry a message between the student and the parent in regard to school activities but is distributed through the mail to the public in general or to selected sections of the public and may they use educational funds to employ a person to prepare such a bulletin. . . ."

            This question is very similar to your first, the only difference being the purpose of the publication in question.  In answer to this question we have similarly concluded, in our opinion to the prosecuting attorney of Spokane county, June 30, 1950 [[AGO 49-51 No. 292]], supra, tha

            "An examination of the statutes pertaining to school districts and school directors reveals that there is no express statutory authorization for the printing by a school print shop of informational material concerning school programs for distribution to the public.

            ". . .

            ". . . it is our opinion that a school board has no statutory power, express or implied, to authorize the printing in a school print shop of informational material concerning school board and levy elections, expenditures of school funds or the use of school property not specifically designated by statute; . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            While, as may be noted, the specific question answered had to do with publication of school board and levy elections, the basis of the opinion was broader.  The opinion as a whole was based upon the broad premise that a school board may not authorize printing by a school print shop of any informational material concerning the school program.1/

             We recognize, however, the validity of the distinction you made in your question between publishing and disseminating general information to the voters at large, or to the residents of the entire district; and merely publishing and disseminating such information about school programs to students and to parents of children attending or about to attend school in the district.

            Our search discloses no previous opinions of this office on the latter question, but we understand that the practice has been in existence for many years in practically every school district of the state without challenge.  Both the practice and its freedom from challenge are quite logical, growing out of a recognition of the nature of education and the necessary relationship between the district and the parent in accomplishing the purposes of education.  In the days of the single schoolhouse district and the one‑room school, communication was a simple matter of parlor discussion between parent and teacher.  Both the district and its educational programs have long since evolved beyond that concept; yet communication remains a necessity with the constant introduction of new ideas and developments in education.  The traditional note sent home from the teacher to the parent can fulfill a certain part of the need; e.g., to inform a child's parents of isolated discipline or behavior problems, or of particular events.  No one could successfully challenge the nominal expense of such a note or letter.  Yet one can easily imagine instances where each child's parents should be notified of a change in a program, or of a particular problem; and a simple mimeographed sheet sent home with each student to his parents can accomplish the task far more simply and with less overall expense to the district than a number of individual letters.  Again, one could hardly challenge the expenditure of school district funds for this purpose.  The basic power is clearly implied.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            From that concept to the concept of a regular mimeographed or printed bulletin, conveying similar information on a periodic basis to the parent about the welfare of the student and his relationship to the school, is not a drastic step nor does it present a legal question of any different substance.  It is a question of degree, and the form and context of the message are necessarily left to the sound discretion of the board of directors, within the legal limitations noted.

            In summary, in accord with our previous opinions noted above, we conclude as follows:

            1. A school district does not have express or implied statutory authority to expend its funds or utilize its facilities or employees for printing and mailing a bulletin, the purpose of which is to influence a favorable result in a school election.

            2. A school district does not have express or implied statutory authority to expend its funds or utilize its facilities or employees for printing and mailing a bulletin, the purpose of which is to provide general information to the inhabitants of the district or the general public (and not merely the students and/or parents) about the district's public schools and school programs.

            For clarification, however, we do not apply the latter conclusion to a written, mimeographed or printed bulletin published and disseminated within the district exclusively to students in the district as a means of communicating between the district and the student and parent, on matters of special or general information (as distinguished from publications designed to influence a particular vote at an election).

            We trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBERT F. HAUTH
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/See, also, our opinion to the horse racing commission dated May 12, 1936, a copy of which is enclosed, which was discussed and relied on in that opinion.

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