Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1962 No. 107 - Apr 2 1962
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


The board of directors of a second class consolidated school district has the authority to close one of its grade schools which is economically unfeasible to operate without submitting the matter to a vote of the people.

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

                                                                    April 2, 1962

Honorable Walter J. Deierlein, Jr.
Prosecuting Attorney
Skagit County
Mount Vernon, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 107

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested an opinion of this office upon a question which we have paraphrased as follows:

            Does a school board of a second class consolidated district have authority to close a school, because it is economically unfeasible to operate, without submitting the proposal to a vote of the people?

            We answer your question in the affirmative, as explained in the analysis.


            You have advised us of the following facts which have given rise to your request for our opinion: The school board of a second class consolidated district wishes to close a school because the cost of its operation is over twice that of other schools in the district.  After closure of the school, between twenty-one and twenty-five pupils will be sent to another school nine miles distant.  Both schools are within the same consolidated district, and the sites and buildings of both schools were in existence prior to the consolidation of the district.  The school buildings to be closed will be closed only as a place of education of children through grades one to eight.  Until it becomes economically feasible to reopen it for its normal purpose, it will be used for other community purposes which the school board by law may authorize.

            Research has disclosed that there is no statute or Washington case  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] which specifically authorizes a school board to close a school.  However, this precise question has previously been considered by this office.  In an opinion dated July 3, 1941, to Honorable Leslie Cooper, Prosecuting Attorney, Snohomish County, we concluded that such authority could be implied from any one of several express grants of power.  After reviewing these grants of power, it was concluded that:

            "In view of the above statutes, and the former opinions of this office, we advise that it is within the discretion of the directors of your district to close school in the Lincoln School building and transfer the students now attending that school to other schools in the district."

            This does not mean that such action may be arbitrarily taken, and of course there must be a school or place of education provided for the children of the district in compliance with RCW 28.58.180.

            The courts of other states have reached similar results when presented with a question and statutes of like character.  See,Allen v. Board of Education, 120 Utah 556, 236 P. 2d. 756 (1951); Brooks et al. v. Shannon et al., 184 Okla. 255, 86 P. 2d. 792 (1939).

            Once having determined that a board of directors of a second class school district has the power to close a school under proper conditions, the question of whether or not such action must be submitted to a vote of the people depends upon the construction placed upon RCW 28.63.181, which provides:

            "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 buildings, 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.)

            The result will depend upon whether removal of a "schoolhouse" means the physical moving of the building or whether it means moving the  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] school site so as to relocate the teachers, pupils and various accessories necessary to conduct a "school."

            RCW 28.63.181 has been on the statute books since 1890 in various forms (§ 26, chapter 12, Laws of 1890).  The terms of the statute have varied slightly, but the substance of the proviso has remained the same.  Our office has construed the proviso several times.  In the opinion to Honorable Leslie Cooper, supra, we concluded, based in part upon an opinion written to Honorable H. Hewen, Prosecuting Attorney, Pacific County, May 8, 1914 (Opinions of the Attorney General, 1913-14, p. 452) [[1913-14 OAG 452]], that these:

            ". . . provisions of the statute place a restriction on the authority of school directors in moving a school building or changing the school site, but do not apply to a situation where the directors intend to transfer students from one building to another and there is no intention on the part of the board of directors to move a school building or change the school site."

            However, in AGO 49-51 No. 61 to Honorable Lawrence Hickman, Prosecuting Attorney, Whitman County, on June 9, 1949, it was concluded on the basis of a Montana decision,State ex rel. Jay v. Marshall et al., 13 Mont. 136, 32 Pac. 648 (1893), and without reference to the two previous opinions of this office, that the term "schoolhouse" meant more than the physical building and therefore removal of a schoolhouse meant relocating the institution as a "school."

            However persuasive the logic of the Jay case, supra, the result appears to be incorrect when applied to our statute.  A "schoolhouse" ordinarily means the "building used as a school."  (See Webster's New 20th Century Dictionary, 1960 Ed. at p. 1621).  Whereas our court inState ex rel. Shoreline School District No. 412 v. Superior Court, 55 Wn. (2d) 177, 346 P. (2d) 999 (1959), said that a "school" is an institution consisting of three elements, (1) the teacher, (2) pupils, and (3) the place, i.e. the schoolhouse.  Also, it would appear from the use of the terms "schoolhouse," "buildings," and "teachers' cottages" that RCW 28.63.181, supra, is concerned only with the physical aspects of a school.  Therefore, removal of a "schoolhouse" can only refer to the physical relocation of the building.

            In summary, it is the opinion of this office that the board of directors of a second class school district can close a school when it is economically unfeasible to continue its operation and where the children are provided an equal education in another school of the district, without submitting the proposal to a vote of the people.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            In so far as AGO 49-51-No. 61, supra, contains any language inconsistent herewith, it is hereby overruled.

            It may well be that before the board of directors exercises its discretion in closing the school, it will deem it advisable to discuss this matter at a regular or special meeting.  By following this procedure, the board may become fully advised as to the views of the electors and can make its position known together with the reason necessitating the course of action to be followed.  We might suggest that the reasons for the action taken by the board be specifically included in the minutes of the meeting.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General