Honorable A. L. "Slim" Rasmussen
State Senator, 29th District
Olympia, Washington 98504
Cite as: AGLO 1972 No. 98 (not official)
Dear Senator Rasmussen:
We acknowledge receipt of your letter dated January 13, 1972, requesting our opinion regarding the use of school district funds ". . . for either advertising or the hiring of firms to promote school millage."
To a great extent, the issues raised by your question have been previously considered by this office in several earlier opinions ‑ all of which we are enclosing herewith. In essence, these opinions conclude that a school district lacks the necessary statutory authority to expend district funds or to utilize school district facilities or employees for the purpose of promoting the passage of a school district special millage proposition.
This conclusion, arrived at on the basis of an absence of statutory authority, seems totally consistent with a subsequent legislative pronouncement on the subject, as contained in § 11, chapter 283, Laws of 1969, 1st Ex. Sess. This section, now codified as RCW 28A.58.610, provides as follows:
"The board of directors of any school district shall have authority to authorize the expenditure of funds for the purpose of preparing and distributing information to the general public to explain the instructional program, operation and maintenance of the schools of the district: Provided, That nothing contained herein shall be construed to authorize preparation and distribution of information to the general public for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a school district election."
The only other significant legislative enactment which has occurred since the issuance of the most recent of these opinions, AGO 65-66 No. 102, is contained in § 4, chapter 93, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess. By this act the legislature amended RCW 28A.58.530 to read as follows:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
"For the purpose of obtaining information on school organization, administration, operation, finance and instruction, school districts and intermediate school districts ((superintendents)) may contract for or purchase information and research services from public universities, colleges and other public bodies, or from private individuals or agencies. For the same purpose, school districts and intermediate school superintendents may become members of any nonprofit organization whose principal purpose is to provide such services. Charges payable for such services and membership fees payable to such organizations may be based on the cost of providing such services, on the benefit received by the participating school districts measured by enrollment, or on any other reasonable basis, and may be paid before, during, or after the receipt of such services or the participation as members of such organizations."
This amendment, as we understand it, was enacted to facilitate the execution of counseling contracts between school districts and various expert private counselors, including but not limited to counselors on background matters relating to the timing of special millage elections, etc. However, consistent with RCW 28A.58.610, supra, such counseling must be confined to such matters of background strategy and planning, and may not include (at school district expense) any advertising or promotion of a proposed school district millage proposition itself.
Of course, each individual board of directors of a school district should properly turn to its own legal counsel ‑ either the prosecuting attorney of the county in which the district is located or private counsel who has been retained by the particular district ‑ for specific advice as to the legality of any particular proposed expenditure which may fall within this general area.
It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.