Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1959 No. 48 - June 25, 1959
AGO Opinion Header Image
John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS - COUNTY - SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS - SPECIAL SERVICE FUND.

(1) Money left from the state allocation of funds to the county superintendent for the 1958-59 school year should be transferred to the new county superintendent's special service fund by order or resolution of the board of county commissioners.

(2) Any state funds received under the allocation for the year 1958-59 that will be unexpended on July 1, 1959, must be considered in computing the amount of state funds to be allocated for the year 1959-60.

(3) Money remaining in the special service fund December 31, 1959, will remain in the fund and will not lapse; and in expending funds from the special service allotments, the calendar year prescribed for county budgets must be followed.  (4) The county board of education cannot by resolution give authority to the county superintendent of schools to sign vouchers drawn upon such fund.

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

                                                                   June 25, 1959

Honorable Lloyd J. Andrews
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Old Capitol Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 48

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on several questions relating to section 27, chapter 216, Laws of 1959, (cf. RCW 28.19.120).  We state your specific questions as follows:

            1.  Should money left from the allocation of funds to county superintendents for the 1958-59 school year (chapter 157, Laws of 1955) be transferred to the new County Superintendents' Special Service Fund?

            2.  What is the procedure for making such a transfer?

            3.  Will any amount of money transferred to this fund from the 1958-59 allocation be available for next year's expenditures over and above the amount available through the new formula (when and as approved by the State Board of Education)?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            4.  What happens to the money remaining in the Special Service Fund on December 31, 1959?

            5.  Since county budgets are made on a calendar basis, is it necessary that the calendar year be followed in expending funds from the Special Service allotments?

            6.  The language of the amended 1955 law reads in part as follows: "and such funds shall be expended by warrants drawn by the county auditor upon vouchers approved by the county superintendent and the county board of education."  Since many county boards do not meet each month, would it be possible that the county board could, by resolution, give authority to sign these vouchers to the county superintendent?

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

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Questions (1) and (2):

            During its regular 1959 session, the legislature passed a comprehensive act relating to the office of county school superintendent.  Chapter 216, Laws of 1959, effective June 11, 1959.  Section 27 of this act, which establishes a "county superintendent's special fund" reads as follows:

            "The state board of education shall examine the budget of each county superintendent and fix the amount to be allocated thereto from state funds and certify to the state superintendent of public instruction the amount of state funds needed for the county superintendents' budgets as approved by the state board of education and shall require the state superintendent of public instruction to allocate this amount from the current state school fund or from funds otherwise appropriated for that purpose to the county treasurers for deposit to the credit of the county superintendents' budgets for the use of the common schools.  In each county or consolidation of county superintendents' offices there is hereby created a county superintendent's special service fund  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] into which such funds as are allocated by the superintendent of public instruction under provisions of this act and all such funds as are not specifically allocated by the county current expense fund, shall be deposited, and such funds shall be expended by warrants drawn by the county auditor upon vouchers approved by the county superintendent and the county board of education."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is an oft-quoted rule of construction that in arriving at the intent of the legislature, the first resort of the courts is to the context and subject matter of the legislation, because the intention of the lawmakers is to be deduced, if possible, from the words used.  Hatzenbuhler v. Harrison, 49 Wn. (2d) 691, 306 P. (2d) 745 (1957);Guiness v. State, 40 Wn. (2d) 677, 246 P. (2d) 433 (1952).  Where the language of a statute is plain, free from ambiguity and devoid of uncertainty, there is no room for construction.  State v. Houck, 32 Wn. (2d) 681, 203 P. (2d) 693 (1949); State ex rel. Washington Bank v. Bellingham, 8 Wn. (2d) 233, 111 P. (2d) 781 (1941).

            Applying these rules, it is apparent from the clear language of the above section that the legislature intended to, and did create a county superintendent's special service fund into which it directed that all funds allotted by the superintendent of public instruction (and all such funds as are not specifically allotted by the county current expense fund) be deposited.  The statute cannot be given a limited construction so as to require only funds subsequently allotted to be deposited in the special service fund.  In our opinion, any funds remaining from the allocation by the state superintendent to county superintendents for the 1958-59 school year must be transferred into the new fund.

            We believe the transfer can be simply accomplished by an order or resolution of the board of county commissioners in the respective counties.

            Question (3):

            Under the above statute the state board of education is required to examine the budgets submitted by the respective county superintendents and determine, on the basis of the approved budgets, the amount of state funds needed.  The amount thus fixed is certified thereafter by the board to the state superintendent of public instruction who shall allocate this amount (from the funds specified) to the county treasurer for deposit to the credit of the county superintendent's budget for the use of the common schools.

            In our opinion, any amount of state funds received under the allocation for the year 1958-59 that will be unexpended on July 1, 1959, must be considered when computing the amount of state funds to be allocated for the year 1959-60.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            This conclusion is consistent with, and therefore fortified by, the administrative construction placed upon the former statute, chapter 157, Laws of 1955 (amended by chapter 216, Laws of 1959, supra) by the superintendent of public instruction when determining the amount of state funds to be allocated to the respective county superintendents.  Such construction is evidenced by the question listed on page 3 of the forms supplied to the county superintendents by the superintendent of public instruction for use in requesting allocation of state funds:

            "Amount of state funds received under the allocation for . . . . [previous year] that will be unexpended on July 1, . . . ., and will be a cash balance available for expenditure on this program."

            Our court has said that while the administrative construction placed on a statute by the officer or department charged with its administration is not conclusive, it is entitled to considerable weight in determining the legislative intent.  SeeBradley v. Dept. of Labor and Industries, 52 Wn. (2d) 780, 329 P. (2d) 196 (1958).

            Accordingly, since the 1959 act does not change or modify, in any respect, the former law in so far as the method to be used in determining the allocation of state funds is concerned, we conclude that any unexpended funds allocated for the school year 1958-59 must be deducted from the amount that would otherwise be needed and allocated to the county superintendent for the coming year.

            Questions (4) and (5):

            The fiscal year for a county is based on the calendar year and, therefore, ends on December 31st.  RCW 1.16.030.  Any unexpended county appropriations lapse on that date except as otherwise provided by RCW 36.40.200.  Hence, since the county superintendent of schools is a county officer (RCW 36.16.030; AGO written to the Honorable Frederick B. Cohen, Prosecuting Attorney, Kitsap County, dated May 9, 1946) [[1945-46 OAG 773]]his budget is subject to the provisions of chapter 36.40 RCW which deals with the general law governing the county budget.  However,state funds allocated to the county superintendent under section 27,supra, are not subject to the provisions of RCW 36.40.200 because these funds cannot ever become a part of the general county fund.  Article IX, section 3, of our state constitution provides that funds from the common school fund "shall be exclusively applied to current use of the common schools."  See also RCW 28.41.020; 47 Am.Jur., Schools, § 363.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Therefore, it is our opinion that any state funds remaining in the special service fund at the end of the county fiscal year will remain in the fund and will not lapse.  They will be available for and be subject to being budgeted by the county commissioners for the use of the common schools in the county for the next county fiscal year.  However, in this respect, the board of county commissioners is not vested with any discretion to determine whether, in fact, the state funds are to be expended.  In an informal opinion to the Honorable Charles O. Carroll, Prosecuting Attorney of King County, dated September 13, 1957, we said:

            "We cannot believe that the legislature intended the board of county commissioners to have authority to re evaluate [[reevaluate]]the need for 'state funds' and find that it is less than the need found to exist by the state board of education.  We conclude, therefore, that the board of county commissioners has a mandatory duty to budget in the county budget the amount of funds allocated by the state board of education to the county superintendent's budget, the money to be allocated to the items approved by the county board of education and the state board of education."

            It follows from what we have said that the county fiscal year must be followed in expending funds from the special service fund.  The county superintendent has not been given any power to prescribe a fiscal year different than that followed by other county officers.

            Question (6):  In respect to the expenditure of funds deposited in the special service fund, section 27,supra, provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

            ". . . such fundsshall be expended by warrants drawn by the county auditor upon vouchers approved by the county superintendent and the county board of education."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            You have advised us that many county boards do not meet each month, and therefore, you question whether the county board could, by resolution, give authority to sign these vouchers to the county superintendent.

            The above language is plain, clear, and mandatory, and thus, the county board cannot adopt any resolution in conflict therewith.  Accordingly, we conclude that the county board would have no authority to delegate to the county superintendent the sole responsibility of approving the vouchers for expenditures to be made out of the special service fund.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            In passing it should be pointed out that the foregoing should not be construed as prescribing the specific accounting procedures to be followed in respect to the funds in question.  This is a matter that requires technical accounting knowledge and experience for its solution and, as provided by the legislature, such procedure is to be prescribed by the division of municipal corporations.  RCW 36.40.220.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBERT J. DORAN
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo