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AGO 1959 No. 25 - March 25, 1959
AGO Opinion Header Image
John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

SCHOOLS - DISTRICTS - REORGANIZATION OF DIRECTOR DISTRICTS AS AFFECTING TERM OF OFFICE OF DIRECTOR OF SCHOOL DISTRICT.

(1) Term of office of a duly elected and qualified school district director is not affected by the reorganization of the district which changes the boundary lines of the director district so as to eliminate his director district.

(2) The director from the eliminated director district is legally qualified to hold his office until the expiration of the full term for which he was elected.

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                                                                  March 25, 1959

Honorable John J. Lally
Prosecuting Attorney
Spokane County
Spokane 1, Washington                                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 25

Attention:  !ttMr. Art Hansen,Civil Deputy

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on several questions arising out of a proposed change of boundaries of director districts in a second class school district by the county committee.  We believe a determination of the following questions will adequately answer your inquiry:

            (1) Does a change in the boundary lines of the director districts by the county committee on school district organization so as to eliminate one of the former districts affect in any way the term of office of the director residing in the district eliminated?

            (2) If question (1) is answered in the negative, would the director from the eliminated director district serve only until the next election or would he serve until the expiration of his full term?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We answer question (1) in the negative.  In answer to question (2) it is our opinion that the director from the eliminated director district would be legally qualified to hold his office until the expiration of the full term for which he was elected.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            In your letter you advised this office that there is in Spokane county a second class school district which is divided into five director districts; that because of the population growth in certain director districts the county committee, under the authority of RCW 28.57.050 (7), is contemplating rearranging the director districts by splitting one of the two present residential districts into two districts and combining the three rural districts into two director districts.

            At the outset it should be noted, for the purpose of clarity, that we are here concerned with a change in boundaries of existing director districts of a school district by the county committee, and not an original division of a district into director districts under RCW 28.57.050 (6).  The effect of the latter upon the existing board of directors is governed by RCW 28.57.370.

            The legislature created the county committees on school district organization and vested them with the power to make the territorial organization of school districts more readily adaptable to the needs of the changing economic pattern and educational program in this state.  SeeWheeler School District v. Hawley, 18 Wn. (2d) 37, 137 P. (2d) 1010; RCW 28.57.010 and RCW 28.58.010.

            RCW 28.57.050 provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

            "The powers and duties of the county committee shall be:

            "(7) To rearrange at any time the committee deem such action advisable in order to correct inequalities caused by changes in population, the boundaries of any of the directors' districts of any school district heretofore so divided except a district of the third class, and of any district hereafter so divided:  Provided, That a petition therefore, signed by at least five heads of families residing in the aforesaid school district, is presented to the county superintendent and a public hearing thereon is held by the county committee, . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Although this statute expressly grants to the county committee the power to change the boundary lines of the director districts in a second class district, we find no provision either in chapter 28.57 RCW or in the entire school code, which declares the effect of such a change in boundary lines upon the right of any member of the board of directors thereof to continue to hold office, where his residence in his director district may be affected thereby.

            In respect to vacancies on the board of directors of a second class district, section 3, page 298, chapter 97, Laws of 1909 (cf. RCW 28.63.020) provides as follows:

            "In case the electors of any district of the second class shall neglect or fail to elect directors as hereinbefore provided, the county superintendent may declare vacant the office of any director at the expiration of his term;and in case of a vacancy in the board of directors from any cause, the county superintendent, in conjunction with other directors if there be two, shall fill such vacancy by appointment until the fourth Monday following the next annual election."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The grounds or causes creating a vacancy in the office of school director not being defined in the above statute or any other statute relating to second class school districts, we must look to the general law of this state governing vacancies in public office.  RCW 42.12.010 provides, in part, as follows:

            "Every office shall become vacant on the happening of either of the following events before theexpiration of the term of such officer. . . . fourth, his ceasing to be an inhabitant of the district, county, town or village for which he shall have been elected or appointed or within which the duties of his office are to be discharged; . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In order to resolve the question here presented, we must only determine: Whether a school director is an officer of the director district in which he resides or whether he is an officer of the entire school district although required to be a resident of a specific director district at the time of his election?

            It must be borne in mind that: (1) a school district is a municipal corporation (RCW 28.58.010;Wheeler School District v. Hawley, supra; Juntila v. Everett School District No. 24, 178 Wash. 637, 35 P. (2d) 78; State ex rel. Griffiths v. Superior Court, 177 Wash. 619, 33 P. (2d) 94;Seattle High School v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994; AGO 59-60 No. 13)  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] and (2) the governing body of the school district is the board of directors. RCW 28.58.080; State ex rel. Griffiths v. Superior Court, supra.

            The board of directors of a second class school district consists of five members (RCW 28.58.080), one member being elected from among the residents of each of the five director districts by the electors of the entire school district.  RCW 28.57.350.  The directors are elected for a term of four years and hold office until their successors are elected and qualified.  RCW 28.58.080.

            From an examination of the statutory provisions relative to the general powers and duties of all class school districts (RCW 28.58.100) and considering the exclusive control which the boards exercise over all the school property in their respective districts, (RCW 28.58.010), we must conclude that the board of directors of a school district are officers of the entire district and are not merely officers of their respective director districts.  Accordingly, it is our opinion that no action by the county committee, changing the boundary lines of the director districts can affect the right of any director to hold office until the expiration of his term.  Regardless of any change in boundaries of the director districts, the director continues to reside in theschool district for which he was elected and within which the duties of his office are to be discharged and, thus, no vacancy is created.  RCW 42.12.010,supra.

            This conclusion is supported by the reasoning of our court inState ex rel. O'Connell v. Nelson, 7 Wash. 114, wherein the court held that a duly elected and qualified overseer, who was a resident and elector of the road district in which he was elected, at the time of his election, did not become disqualified to hold office by reason of the fact that the county commissioners thereafter changed the boundaries of the road district so as to place his residence in another road district.

            Furthermore, this conclusion is consistent with the views expressed by this office in opinions written to the prosecuting attorney of Spokane county, dated July 10, 1940, and the prosecuting attorney of Snohomish county, dated March 1, 1911 [[1911-12 OAG 8]]concerning the "office" of county commissioner.  Copies of these opinions are attached hereto for your consideration.

            In answer to your second question as to when the term of office of a school director ends under the facts hereinbefore stated, it is our opinion that the director of a director district which is eliminated by a reorganization of the director districts is legally qualified and entitled to hold his office until the expiration of the full term for which he was elected.  RCW 28.58.080.

            In passing we should like to point out that we have considered the possible effect upon the questions presented herein of House Bill No. 415 which  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] was passed during the regular 1959 session of the Washington State Legislature.  This bill makes certain amendments to the existing school district reorganization law (chapter 28.57 RCW) discussed herein; however, assuming that it will become law, we find no provision therein which would affect in any way the conclusions stated above.

            We trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBERT J. DORAN
Assistant Attorney General

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