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AGO 1967 No. 27 - July 31, 1967
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS - SCHOOLS - 1967 APPROPRIATION FOR SCHOOL EMPLOYEE SALARY IMPROVEMENTS.

(1) The salary improvements contemplated by the appropriation contained in chapter 143, Laws of 1967, Ex. Sess., for salary improvements for school district employees are not to be limited to only those personnel employed by a school district in 1966-67 who return to the same district for the 196768 school year.

(2) The phrase "average level for 1966-67," as used in the appropriation act, refers to the average level for each school district and not to the state wide [[statewide]]average salary level.

(3) In determining the average salary level for 1966-67 for a given school district, for purposes of providing salary improvements in accordance with the appropriation act, the district may, but is not required to, calculate separate averages for various classes or categories of school employees.

(4) Both the seven percent factor and the five percent factor contained in the appropriation act are to be applied against the "average level for 1966-67."

(5) Where a school district provides an average salary improvement of more than seven percent during 1967-68, it need not add an additional five percent for 1968-69, so long as the average level for 1968-69 is at least twelve percent in excess of the 1966-67 average.

(6) All that is contemplated by the appropriation act is that school districts shall provide salary improvements for all district personnel in average amounts of seven percent in 1967-68, and an additional five percent in 1968-69, over the average level for 1966-67 (exclusive of adjustments made pursuant to chapter 4, Laws of 1967); therefore, ordinary annual increment raises provided by a given district remain an appropriate subject for local negotiation and may or may not be granted in addition to the salary improvements funded by the appropriation.

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

                                                                    July 31, 1967

Honorable Louis Bruno
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Old Capitol Building
Olympia, Washington

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1967 No. 27

 [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on several questions concerning the appropriation contained in chapter 143, Laws of 1967, Ex. Sess., for salary improvements for school district employees.  Specifically, you have asked questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Are the salary improvements contemplated by the appropriation to be limited to only personnel employed by a school district in 1966-67 who return to the same district for the 1967-68 school year?

            (2) Does the phrase "average level for 1966-67," as used in the appropriation act, refer to the average level for each school district as distinguished from the state wide [[statewide]]average salary level?

            (3) In determining the average salary level for 1966-67 for a given school district, are separate averages to be calculated for various classes of employees; e.g., certificated and noncertificated personnel?

            (4) Are both the seven percent factor and the five percent factor contained in the appropriation act to be applied against the "average level for 1966-67"?

            (5) If a school district provides an average salary improvement of more than seven percent during 1967-68, must it then add an additional five percent for 1968-69?

            (6) Where a school district has made provision for annual salary increments, does the appropriation act require that these increments be granted in addition to the salary improvements contemplated by the appropriation?

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

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The state's omnibus appropriations act for the biennium 1967-69 (Engrossed House Bill 208, amended by the free conference committee and enacted as chapter 143, Laws of 1967, Ex. Sess.) appropriated $517,914,252 from the state's general fund to the  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] office of superintendent of public instruction for apportionment to school districts, with an amount specifically earmarked for salary improvements for school district personnel.  The relevant portion of the act appears in § 1 thereof, and provides as follows:

            "General Fund Appropriation for General Apportionment:

            "PROVIDED, That it is the intent of the legislature to provide salary improvements for all district personnel in average amounts of seven percent in 1967-68 and an additional five percent in 1968-69 over the average level for 1966-67, said 1966-67 level being exclusive of adjustments made pursuant to chapter 4, Laws of 1967, plus related OASI and retirement costs; the estimated cost of these improvements for the K 12 program being $64,413,944, of which $57,538,078 is contained in this appropriation for disbursement during 1967-69 and $6,875,872 is to be appropriated by the Forty-First Legislature for disbursement in July and August, 1969, under the provisions of chapter 162, Laws of 1965, Extraordinary Session: PROVIDED, That the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall distribute not to exceed $1,500,000 so as to guarantee that no noncertificated employee receives a reduction in salary below the level established for him pursuant to chapter 4, Laws of 1967: . . .

            ". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $517,914,252."

            Our basic task in answering your questions is to discover and articulate the intent of the legislature.1/   In this endeavor we are guided by a number of rules of statutory construction conceived and relied upon over the years by our  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] supreme court.  Thus, our court has instructed that a statute should receive a sensible construction, such as will effect the intent of the legislature and avoid, if possible, absurd or unjust conclusions.  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).  The method by which the legislative intent is determined is simple: read the act itself, construe its provisions according to their ordinary meaning and, quite importantly, give consideration to the purposes and objects sought to be accomplished by the legislative enactment.  State ex rel. State Ret. Bd. v. Yelle, 31 Wn.2d 87, 195 P.2d 646, 201 P.2d 172 (1948);King County v. City of Seattle, 70 W.D.2d 957 [[70 Wn.2d 988]], 425 P.2d 887 (1967).

            Furthermore, no statute should be construed so as to render any clause, sentence, or word superfluous, void or insignificant.  Group Health Etc. v. King Co. Med. Soc., 39 Wn.2d 586, 637, 237 P.2d 737 (1951);Public Hospital District v. Taxpayers, 44 Wn.2d 623, 625, 269 P.2d 594 (1954);Tradewell Stores, Inc. v. Snohomish Co., 69 W.D.2d 356 [[69 Wn.2d 352]], 418 P.2d 466 (1966).

            Finally, of course, if the language of the statute is plain, clear and unambiguous, there is no room for construction.  In re Baker's Estate, 49 Wn.2d 609, 304 P.2d 1051 (1956); Parkhurst v. Everett, 51 Wn.2d 292, 318 P.2d 327 (1957);King County v. City of Seattle, supra.

            With the above rules of statutory construction in mind, we now turn directly to your questions.

            Question (1):

            Are the salary improvements contemplated by the appropriation to be limited to only personnel employed by a school district in 1966-67, who return to the same district for the 1967-68 school year?

            The relevant language in the appropriations act in this regard is the following:

            ". . . it is the intent of the legislature to provide salary improvements forall district personnel . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Clearly, therefore, the legislature intended that "all" personnel in school districts be given salary improvements in one  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] degree or another, over and above the base average stated in the act.  The legislature did not distinguish or except from the term "all district personnel" either those employees who were hired to replace retired or departing personnel, or those employees hired as a part of a district's expansion of staff.  Thus, we find no intent to limit the phrase "all district personnel" to only those personnel who are returning or were recontracted.  Furthermore, such an interpretation would be unreasonable.  As we stated in a prior opinion (AGO 61-62 No. 34, copy enclosed) regarding the interpretation of the comparable 1961 appropriations act:2/

            "In our opinion the board of directors is not limited to merely raising the salaries of 'returning or recontracted teachers' with the money allotted to it by the state.  Such a construction is not warranted from the language of the act, and, if adopted, most certainly would result in a considerable hardship when classroom teachers transfer between districts within this state."

            The rationale of that opinion is likewise consistent with the policy underlying § 3, chapter 49, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess. (RCW 28.67.076), which preserves to certificated personnel transferring from one district to another all their seniority and leave benefits.  See, AGO 65-66 No. 79.

            Therefore, in short, we are of the opinion that the phrase "all district personnel" should be given its ordinary meaning, that every word should be given effect, and thatall district personnel, both new and returning should be deemed eligible to receive a salary improvement in some degree or other, either through chapter 4, Laws of 1967, or through the appropriations act being interpreted here, or both.3/   This is not to say  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] that every employee's salary must be improved by seven percent and five percent over the average level for 1966-67, for the improvements are, in the language of the act, to be made in "average amounts" of seven percent and five percent.4/   It is to say, however, that the salary improvements are not to be limited to only those personnel previously employed who return to the same school district for the 1967-68 school year.

            Question (2):

            Does the phrase "average level for 1966-67," as used in the appropriation act, refer to the average level for each school district as distinguished from the state wide average salary level?

            It is our opinion that the legislature intended that the salaries of "all district personnel," using the statutory language, be improved in the average amounts specified above the "average level for 1966-67" for each district.  That is, the "average level" referred to is the average level for each individual district, and is not a state wide [[statewide]]average level.  See, AGO 61-62 No. 34,supra, and AGO 65-66 No. 22, wherein we reached the same conclusion.  We find no language in the 1967 act which would compel a departure from the rationale of our previous opinions.5/

            Question (3):

            In determining the average salary level for 1966-67 for a given school district, are separate averages to be calculated for various classes of employees; e.g., certificated and noncertificated personnel?

            Little is offered in the way of clear legislative direction on this question.  However, portions of the debate in the house of representatives on Sunday night, April 30, 1967, when the report of the free conference committee on Engrossed House Bill No. 208 (the appropriations act) was being discussed, are illuminating.  Representative Saling, who was a member of the  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] free conference committee on Eng. H.B. 208, yielded to a question from Representative Chatalas inquiring about the possibility that since the improvements for 1967-68, for example, were inaverage amounts of seven percent, some personnel could be given only a three percent improvement and others a ten percent improvement.  The following colloquy then took place:

            "Mr. Saling:

            "It's very likely some will get three percent and some might get ten percent.  This is up to the local board of education to determine.  There is an average for each district of seven percent.  Most every school district has their own salary schedule and these salary schedules are negotiated by the associations with the school boards and they may adopt a completely different salary schedule.  The average however of salaries paid in a given district should increase by seven percent in the first year of the biennium.  Now I am not talking about average for each individual person, but the average for salaries in their budget should increase by seven percent."

            "Mr. Chatalas:

            "Well, once again Mr. Saling, I don't believe this is the intent of the members of the legislature, when we agree to give the teachers a salary increase.  I think the intent of most legislators is to give an increase to the teachers of seven percent and five percent, and if we leave it up to the districts, some of them don't get it, and this is why I'm going to vote against it."

            Then, notwithstanding these objections voiced by Representative Chatalas, the bill passed as reported by the free conference committee.  Thus, it seems clear that the salary improvements contemplated by the act were intended to be in terms of "average amounts" of seven percent and five percent and, as we have already concluded, to be for the benefit of all personnel in the district.  Therefore, so long as improvements given by a particular district "average out" on a district-wide basis to seven percent and five percent, the allocation of the improvements between classes of personnel such as certificated  [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] and noncertificated, can lawfully result in one class receiving across the board a greater than average improvement, and the other class receiving a less than average improvement.  This being so, it is to be seen that it makes no difference in terms of themanner of allocation by a school district whether salaries of certificated and noncertificated personnel, or other similar classes, are lumped together or treated separately in determining the "average level for 1966-67."

            We are of the opinion, then, that the decision rests in the discretion of each school district as to whether to compute the average level for 1966-67 forboth certificated and noncertificated personnel separately, or alternatively to take the collective approach and determine the collective average level for 1966-67.  In other words, in determining the average salary level for 1966-67 for a given school district, for purposes of providing salary improvements in accordance with the appropriation act, the district may, but is not required to, calculate separate averages for various classes or categories of school employees.

            Question (4):

            Are both the seven percent factor and the five percent factor contained in the appropriation act to be applied against the "average level for 1966-67"?

            The particular language in the act to be interpreted in this regard is the following:

            ". . . in average amounts of seven percent in 1967-68 and an additional five percent in 1968-69 over the average level for 1966-67, . . ."

            We are of the opinion after carefully examining the language of the appropriations act and particularly the portion quoted above, that the clear and unambiguous intent of the legislature was to apply both the figure of seven percent and that of five percent to the 1966-67 "average level" for each individual district.

            Accordingly, by way of demonstration, suppose the average salary level for 1966-67 in a given district was $7,000, the salary improvements would break down as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 9]]

            Average salary level 1966-67                                                                                       $7,000

            After 7% salary improvement 1967-68                                                                     $7,490

            After 5% salary improvement 1968-69
           
(add 5% of $7,000 to 1967-68 levelof $7,490)                                                        $7,840

            Question (5):

            If a school district provides an average salary improvement of more than seven percent during 1967-68, must it then add an additional five percent for 1968-69?

            It is our opinion that the answer to this question follows from what we have said in answer to Question (4).  A school district's obligation under the appropriations act is to improve salaries for its personnel in total average amounts of twelve percent during the 1967-69 bienniumover the average level for 1966-67.  Improvements must be made in two steps:  seven percent the first year of the biennium and five percent the second.  Appropriated funds are made available to school districts for this purpose.  Whether or not a school district decides to go beyond the level of improvements specified by the legislature is the school district's prerogative, except that overages must come from some other source than appropriated funds.6/

            Question (6):

            Where a school district has made provision for annual salary increments, does the appropriation act require that these increments be granted in addition to the salary improvements  [[Orig. Op. Page 10]] contemplated by the appropriation?

            We understand that increments paid by a school district usually reflect such factors as an employee's experience and his educational background.  The establishment, amount, and payment of increments are matters within the discretion of the local district boards of directors.  Most significantly, increments may very well be, and often are, a matter for negotiation between the districts and the representatives of employee organizations (see, chapter 28.72 RCW), and are reflected in the salary schedule for the district, if it has one, and in the individual contracts between the district and its personnel.

            Clearly, then, a school district may be under an obligation to pay increment increases to its personnel pursuant to a negotiated salary schedule and individual contracts, which obligation exists quite apart from its obligation under the appropriation act.  Yet, as we have already pointed out in our answers to Questions (4) and (5), the district's obligation under the appropriations act in the 1967-69 biennium is to improve salaries by twelve percent over the 1966-67 average level.  The act, as we have said, does not preclude additional improvements (beyond the twelve percent) with appropriated funds.  Such additional improvements are the local district's decision.

            It follows from what we have said that to discover whether increments are included or excluded, we would have to turn in each case to the history of the negotiated salary schedule or the language of the contracts in each district.  There is no mandate in the appropriations act that increments be either included or excluded.

            We note, in this regard, another statement of Representative Saling made on the floor of the house of representatives on Sunday night, April 30, 1967, during debate on the report of the free conference committee on Engrossed House Bill No. 208.  At the request of Representative Richardson, Representative Saling yielded to a question:

            "Mr. Richardson:

            "Mr. Saling, on page 18 of this budget, in one of the provisos, it provides that all school employees of the state shall receive  [[Orig. Op. Page 11]] a seven percent increase the first year of the biennium and a five percent increase the second year.  This has given rise to a question by many members of this body, by many teachers and many school directors in the state of Washington.  The question is, does this seven and five percent include normal increments for experience and education, or is it intended that this seven and five shall be over and above these increments?"

            "Mr. Saling:

            "Mr. Richardson, there is money available in this state budget to pay an average salary increase of not less than seven and five percent to the teachers in the local districts, and I am talking about an average amount.  It's up to the local school board to determine precisely how the money will be spent, but it must average that amount.  Now the local districts are normally the ones that vote their own funds through special levies or through their normal collection of taxes for the increments.  There is not enough money in the state portion of this budget to pay increments in addition to the seven and five percent.  These increments are normally handled by the local districts."

            Consistent with this expression, we answer your sixth question as follows:

            All that is contemplated by the appropriation act is that each school district shall provide salary improvements for all district personnel in average amounts of seven percent in 1967-68, and an additional five percent in 1968-69, over the average level for 1966-67 (exclusive of adjustments made pursuant to chapter 4, Laws of 1967); therefore, ordinary annual increment raises provided by a given district remain an appropriate subject for local negotiation and may or may not be granted in addition to the salary improvements funded by the appropriation.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 12]]

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

THOMAS K. DALGLISH
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/We note that a number of times in recent years this office has been called upon to interpret provisions in appropriations acts relating to salary improvements for teachers and other school district employees.  See, AGO 57-58 No. 45; AGO 57-58 No. 52; AGO 61-62 No. 34; AGO 61-62 No. 84; and AGO 65-66 No. 22.

2/Section 1, chapter 26, Laws of 1961, Ex. Sess.

3/Since the 1966-67 "average level" is exclusive of adjustments made pursuant to chapter 4, Laws of 1967, and since the percentage improvements are measured against the prechapter 4 base, the chapter 4 adjustments may be included in determining the percentage improvements, chapter 4 being in effect an early implementation of the salary improvements intended by the legislature.

4/The legislative history recited in our answer to Question (3) further supports this conclusion.

5/Once again the legislative history quoted in answer to Question (3) supports this conclusion.

6/In 1961 in an opinion of this office (AGO 61-62 No. 34) we answered a question similar to the one presented to us now.  In that opinion we concluded that school districts could spend earmarked funds only in the manner and amounts specified by the legislature.  Districts were obligated to spend appropriated funds only in strict accordance with the intent of the legislature, and, as we said, what a "particular district may elect to do over and above this obligation through the use of other funds has no bearing on this obligation."  AGO 61-62 No. 34, page 7.

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