Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1960 No. 116 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


A second class school district does not have the authority to purchase a house for the continued use of the superintendent of the district with or without a vote of the electors.

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

                                                                    May 6, 1960

Honorable Thurman E. Ward
Prosecuting Attorney
Klickitat County
Goldendale, Washington                                                                                           Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 116

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Does a second class school district have the power to purchase a house for the continued use of the superintendent of the district, with or without a vote of the electors?

            We answer the question in the negative.


            At the outset, it should be pointed out once again that, under Washington Law, a school district is an arm of the state for the administration of the public school system.  See, School Dist. No. 37, Clark County v. Isackson, 92 F. (2d) 768, certiorari denied, 303 U.S. 636, 58 S.Ct. 521, 82 L.Ed. 1096.  Each school district has been established by the legislature, and recognized by court, as a municipal corporation.  As such, the district has only those powers expressly granted by the legislature, those necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to the powers granted, and those essential to the declared objects and purposes of the municipal corporation.  Seattle High School Ch. No. 200 v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994 (1930); Juntila v. Everett School District No. 24, 178 Wash. 637, 35 P. (2d) 78 (1934).  The governing  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] body of the district, empowered to exercise the foregoing powers, is, of course, the elected board of directors.  RCW 28.58.080; State ex rel. Griffiths v. Superior Court, 177 Wash. 619, 33 P. (2d) 94 (1934).

            During its regular 1959 session, the state legislature passed chapter 169, Laws of 1959, an act relating to second and third class school districts.  The codification of this act pertaining to second class districts is found in RCW 28.63.181 which reads as follows:

            "The board of directors of a second class school district shall build schoolhouses and teachers' cottages when directed by a vote of the district to do so.  The board of directors of a second class school district may purchase real property for any school district purpose: Provided, That a schoolhouse, or other building, already built on a site which has been selected by a majority vote of the district shall not be removed to a new site without a two-thirds vote of the district at a regular or special election; nor shall a schoolhouse site that has been selected by a majority vote of the district, but upon which no schoolhouse has been built, be changed except by a two-thirds vote of the district voting at a regular or special election."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is an oft-quoted rule of statutory 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); Guinness v. State, 40 Wn. (2d) 677, 246 P. (2d) 433 (1952).  Furthermore, a statute must be construed whenever possible so that no clause, sentence or word shall be held to be superfluous, void or insignificant.  Public Hospital District No. 2 of Okanogan County v. Taxpayers, 44 Wn. (2d) 623, 269 P. (2d) 594.

            Applying these rules, it is apparent that the legislature has authorized second class school districts to build "schoolhouses and teachers' cottages" when directed by a vote of the district.  In our letter to you, dated August 19, 1959, in which we construed the above statute, we concluded that:

            ". . . a second class school district does not have the power to purchase residential property for teachers' housing purposes without a vote of the district.  Any other conclusion would result in the creation of an absurd situation: On the one hand, under the authority of the first sentence of the statute the district could build or construct schoolhouses and teachers' cottages only when directed by a vote of the people.  While on the other hand, if the term 'real property' as it is used in the second sentence were construed so as to include the site and buildings located thereon, the board of directors would have the authority to purchase (not build or construct) a school building or teachers' cottages without a vote of the people."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In order to resolve the first question stated above it is necessary for us to determine whether a second class school district has any statutory power to build or purchase property to be used for a superintendent's home; that is, whether such housing is included within the definition of "teachers cottages" as that phrase is used in RCW 28.63.181, supra.

            Since the word teacher is not defined in the act, it must be given its usual and ordinary meaning.  See, Miller v. City of Pasco, 50 Wn. (2d) 229, 310 P. (2d) 863 (1957); Crown Zellerbach Corp. v. State, 53 Wn. (2d) 813, 328 P. (2d) 884 (1958).  In Black's Law Dictionary, we find the following definition of "teacher":

            "One who teaches or instructs; especially one whose business or occupation is to teach others; an instructor; preceptor. . . ."

            Every class school district is authorized by statute to "Employ for not more than one year, and for sufficient cause discharge teachers, . . ."  RCW 28.58.100 (1).  In respect to the employment of superintendents in second class districts, with which we are here concerned, RCW 28.63.060 provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

            "In all districts of the second class the board of directors shall elect, for a term of one or two years as may be deemed best, a superintendent, or a principal, who shall hold a valid teachers' certificate.  Such superintendent or principal shall have supervision over the several departments of the school."

            We feel the distinction between a teacher and superintendent has always been recognized by the legislature and, when intended, a statute is worded in such a manner so as to bring both within its provisions.  Examples of such legislation are: RCW 28.58.430, "Sick leave for certificated employees"; and, RCW 28.67.070, "Conditions and contracts of employment -Nonrenewal of contracts" where the word "employee" is defined to include "teacher, principal, supervisor or superintendent."

            Accordingly, it is our opinion that the board of directors of a second class district does not have the authority to purchase or construct a house for a superintendent under RCW 28.63.181 either with or without a vote of the district.  Furthermore, we are not aware of any other statute which is sufficiently broad to authorize the expenditure of public funds for such purpose.  This conclusion is in accord with the rule consistently recognized by this office that, where there is any doubt as to the existence of a power, it must be denied.  See McGilvra v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 113 Wash. 619, 194 Pac. 817 (1921); Pacific Etc. Ass'n. v. Pierce County, 27 Wn. (2d) 347, 178 P. (2d) 351; AGO 59-60 No. 62 [[to State Superintendent of Public Instruction on August 27, 1959]].

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            In view of the foregoing conclusion, it is not necessary for us to pass specifically upon the second question you have submitted.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.  If you have any further questions concerning this matter, please feel free to contact this office.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General