Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1962 No. 105 - Mar 29 1962
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


A school district of the first class has the power to apply to the federal communications commission for a license to construct a television transmitter and to construct said transmitter on land within the district for educational purposes.

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                                                                  March 29, 1962

Honorable Lincoln B. Shropshire
Prosecuting Attorney
Yakima County
Yakima, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 105

Dear Sir:

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

            Does a first class school district have the power to apply to the federal communications commission for a license to construct a television transmitter and to construct a television transmitter on land within the school district, assuming such license is granted?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.


            It is our understanding that the purpose and nature of the operation of a television transmitter by a school district would be to act as a medium for disseminating information in the nature of educational programs to the various public schools within the district.  The method of dissemination by the transmitter would be a rebroadcast of educational programs to the school.  The programs would constitute an integral part of the regular curriculum of the students.  Members of the public would be able to tune in on the educational programs, if they so desired, by purchasing a relatively inexpensive adapter for their television sets.

            It is axiomatic that the board of directors of a school district possesses only such powers as are granted to it by the legislature.  State ex rel. School District No. 301 v. Clausen, 109 Wash. 37, 41, 186 Pac. 319 (1919).  Our supreme court has further delineated the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] powers of a school district in Juntila v. Everett School District No. 24, 178 Wash. 637, 639, 35 P. (2d) 78 (1934):

            ". . . The respondent school district was a municipal corporation or quasi municipal corporation, created by the legislature, and exercises such powers as the legislature has granted in express words, or those necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to the powers expressly granted or those essential to the declared objects and purposes of the corporation.Seattle High School Chapter No. 200 v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994 [1930] . . ."

            The general laws governing all classes of school districts are found in chapter 28.58 of the Revised Code of Washington [[chapter 28.58 RCW]]. RCW 28.58.010 provides:

            "A school district shall constitute a body corporate and shall possess all the usual powers of a corporation for public purposes, and in that name and style may sue and be sued, purchase, hold, and sell personal property and real estate, and enter into such obligations as are authorized by law.  The board of directors of the school district shall have exclusive control of all school buildings and other property, real or personal, owned by the district."

            RCW 28.58.100 provides in pertinent part:

            "Every board of directors, unless otherwise specially provided by law, shall:

            ". . .

            "(5) Purchase personal property in the name of the district and receive, lease, issue and hold for their district real and personal property;"

            Education is of course the essential over-all purpose of the school district.  See § 1, Article IX, Washington state constitution.  It is the duty of each board of directors to carry out the course of study lawfully prescribed for the district.  See, RCW 28.58.100 (2) and 28.62.180 (2).

            In summary, then, the directors of a school district have the power  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] to acquire and hold personal and real property, erect buildings, and structures deemed essential to the well being of the schools and which would best promote the interests of education.

            The question of whether the construction and operation of an educational television transmitter by a school district falls within the implied powers delegated to the school district by the legislature appears to be one of first impression.  Our court has however set forth certain general standards to guide us in the resolution of this problem.

            For example, in theJuntila case, supra, our court held that where a school district had the power to acquire a site for recreational activities, it had the incidental power to do those things reasonably necessary to make the site suitable for that purpose.  Thus the court approved the erection of bleachers adjacent to a football field by a school district.

            A recent Washington case illustrates the application of the doctrine of "implied powers" to school districts, State ex rel. Tacoma School District No. 10 v. Stojack, 53 Wn. (2d) 55, 330 P. (2d) 567 (1958).  At page 64 of its opinion, the court stated:

            "In the selection of a site, the board of directors had the authority to determine the area of land reasonably necessary to accommodate suitable buildings, play grounds(Sorenson v. Perkins & Co., 72 Wash. 16, 129 Pac. 577 (1913), and cases cited), student activity areas, and related facilities to establish an adequate senior high school in accordance with present day educational requirements. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            Thus, it is apparent that there is an awareness on the part of our judiciary that a school district has fairly broad discretion in determining how best to fulfill the educational needs of the school children in light of recent advances in educational methodology.

            The concept of what constitutes an adequate school has changed greatly since the days of the McGuffy Reader.  The development of television as an educational technique illustrates one such change.

            Our court inState ex rel. Shoreline Etc. v. Superior Court, 55 Wn. (2d) 177, 182, 346 P. (2d) 999 (1959); cert. den. 363 U.S. 814; 80 Sup.Ct. 1248; 4 L.Ed. 2d 1154 (1960), has defined the word "school" as follows:

            ". . . A school is an institution consisting of a teacher and pupils, irrespective of age, gathered together for instruction in any  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] branch of learning.  Wisse v. Board of Education of City of New York, 178 Misc. 118, 32 N.Y.S. (2d) 258 (1941);Board of Education of City School District of City of Cleveland v. Ferguson, 68 Ohio App. 514, 39 N.E. (2d) 196 (1941).  The three essential elements of a school are (1) the teacher, (2) the pupil or pupils, and (3) the place or institution. . . ."

            The highest courts of other jurisdictions have also broadly delineated the meaning of the word "school."  For example, inSchool District No. 3 v. Municipal Finance Commission, 339 Mich. 96, 62 N.W. (2d) 445, 448 (1954), the court stated:

            "The word school means little more than an institution with educational purposes and activities. . . . [Citing cases] Education, principally and primarily of the children of the district, is the one general objective of the plaintiff."

            Also inHansen et al., v. Board of Education of Emery County School District, 101 Utah 15, 26, 116 P. (2d) 936, 941 (1941), the following definition was offered by the court:

            "A school is something more than a plot of ground, a site for a building, or both.  A school is an operating institution for the welfare of the community it serves."

            Keeping in mind that the one primary objective of a school district is the education of the children therein and the fact that the construction and operation of an educational television transmitter would constitute a new and uniquely effective method of achieving this goal, it is the opinion of this office that a school district has the power to apply to the federal communications commission for a license to construct a television transmitter to be used for educational purposes.  The operation of such a transmitter would be within the powers delegated to a school district of the first class by the legislature.  Although not specifically covered by any statutory provision, it may be said to be reasonably implied from the general delegation of authority to provide for the education of the children in the school district.

            It should be noted that we are assuming that the operation of such an educational television transmitter would not be on a commercial  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] basis, in competition with privately owned television stations.  See the prior opinion of this office in 26 AGO 157 [[1925-26 OAG 157 to Superintendent of Public Instruction on April 8, 1926]].

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General