Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1977 No. 39 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton


An educational service district created pursuant to Chapter 28A.21 RCW is a political subdivision within the meaning of RCW 41.56.020, and therefore, the public employees collective bargaining act contained in Chapter 41.56 RCW is applicable to the employees of such a district.

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

                                                              September 21, 1977

Honorable Richard A. King
State Representative
309 77th Place S.W.
Everett, Washington 99203                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1977 No. 39

Dear Sir:

            Reference is made to your letter of March 15, 1977, requesting the opinion of this office with regard to whether the public employees' collective bargaining act (Chapter 41.56 RCW) is applicable to the employees of an educational service district created pursuant to Chapter 28A.21 RCW.

            We answer your question in the affirmative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.


            The basic statute to be considered in responding to your question is RCW 41.56.020 which defines the scope of the public employees' collective bargaining act as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "This chapter shall apply to any county or municipal corporation, or any political subdivision of the state of Washington except as otherwise provided by RCW 47.64.030, 47.64.040, 54.04.170, 54.04.180, 28.72.010 through 28.72.090, and chapter 53.18 RCW."

            The critical issue is whether an educational service district is a political subdivision or, alternatively, a state agency.  During our initial review of your request last spring, however, we most definitely found that issue to be a rather close one.  In short, based upon our review of the then existing statutes relating to educational service districts (primarily in Chapter 28A.21 RCW), we soon discovered that reasonable legal arguments could be made in support of either conclusion.  Accordingly, noting the then pendancy of further legislation dealing with such districts, we determined to hold off on issuing an opinion until after that legislation either passed or failed.

            Now, upon a review of the acts passed during the 1977 session, we are pleased to report that through its passage of chapter 283, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess. (SSB 2810) the legislature has in fact provided us with an appropriate basis for rendering a decision with which we can all agree.  We have reference, particularly, to § 13 of chapter 203, supra, by which the legislature amended the preexisting provisions of RCW 39.34.020 (a portion of the interlocal cooperation act) to read as follows:

            "For the purposes of this chapter, the term 'public agency' shall mean any city, town, county, public utility district, irrigation district, port district, fire protection district, school district, educational service district, air pollution control authority, rural county library districts, intercounty rural library districts, public hospital districts, regional planning agency created by any combination of county and city governments, health department or district, weed control district, county transit authority, Indian tribe recognized as such by the federal government, or metropolitan municipal corporation of this state; any agency of the state government or of the United States; and any political subdivision of another state."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            By thus adding educational service districts to the list of local governmental bodies coming under the interlocal cooperation act, the legislature appears to have manifested an understanding that such districts, as well, are political subdivisions and not state agencies.  Conversely, had the legislature viewed an educational service district to be a state agency it would not have been necessary for it to have enacted the foregoing amendment at all ‑ for state agencies were already expressly within the purview of RCW 39.34.020, supra.  And, as you know, there is a well-established presumption recognized by the courts that the legislature does not engage in the enactment of vain or useless laws.  See, e.g.,Knowles v. Holly, 82 Wn.2d 694, 513 P.2d 18 (1973) andRoza Irrigation Dist. v. State, 80 Wn.2d 633, 497 P.2d 166 (1972), the latter also being a case, notably, which dealt with the scope of the term "political subdivision" as used in RCW 41.56.020,supra.

            Accordingly, it is now the opinion of this office that an educational service district should likewise be deemed to be a political subdivision, and not a state agency, for the purposes of RCW 41.56.020, supra.  And from that it therefore follows that the provisions of the public employees' collective bargaining act (chapter 41.56 RCW) are applicable to the employees of such districts.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General