Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1962 No. 161 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


The board of county commissioners of a county in which part of a joint school district is located may not expend federal forest funds for improvement or addition to school buildings situated in another county, where the joint district belongs to such other county under RCW 28.57.250.

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                                                               September 5, 1962

Honorable Alf M. Jacobsen
Prosecuting Attorney
Klickitat County
Goldendale, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 161

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested the opinion of this office on two questions, which we paraphrase as follows:

            1. May federal forest funds be expended by a county, for the benefit of a joint school district lying partly within the county, specifically for additions and improvements to school facilities of the district which are located in the other county?

            2. If federal forest funds of the county must be used within the confines of that county, may the joint school district on whose facilities the money will be expended hold title to the land on which the funds are expended?

            We answer your first question in the negative, thereby rendering it unnecessary to answer your second question.


            Factually, as you point out, both the high school and the grade school of the joint district are situated in that part of the district lying in an adjoining county (other than the county desiring to expend the funds).

            RCW 28.57.230 defines a joint school district as "Any school district composed of territory lying in more than one county. . . ."  RCW 28.57.250 provides in pertinent part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "For all purposes essential to the maintenance, operation, and administration of the schools of a district, including the apportionment of current state and county school funds, a joint school district shall be considered asbelonging to the county in which the high school of the district is situated. . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The phrase "to which the district belongs" or words of similar import, are found in at least four succeeding statutes, including RCW 28.57.260, 28.57.270, 28.57.280, and 28.57.300.

            On the other hand RCW 36.33.110, relating to the distribution of federal forest funds, provides in pertinent part as follows:

            "County commissioners of the respective counties to which the money is distributed are authorized and directed to expend said money for the benefit of the public schools, . . . and public roads thereof and not otherwise."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            One might argue that the legislature's intention in using the word "thereof" in RCW 36.33.110,supra is not at all clear and is subject to construction.  We would certainly agree if this statute could be read by itself or only in connection with RCW 28.57.230,supra defining a joint school district.  However, the purpose of statutory construction is to ascertain the meaning and intention of the legislature, and such intention, when discovered, is controlling, though contrary to the strict letter of the statute.  Cory v. Nethery 19 Wn. (2d) 326, 142 P. (2d) 488 (1943).  In the process of statutory construction all acts of the legislature should be given effect in so far as reasonably possible.  State ex rel. Reed v. Spanaway Water District 38 Wn. (2d) 393, 229 P. (2d) 532 (1951).  Furthermore, we would be construing the term with specific reference to the statutes defining and relating to joint districts; and in that respect both the statute relating to the distribution of federal forest funds, and the statutes relating to joint school districts, must be considered as relating to the same subject matter.  In the construction of a particular statute or in the interpretation of its words or provisions, all acts relating to the subject or having the same general purpose should be read as together constituting one law.  Endeavor should be made to ascertain the uniform and consistent legislative purpose and words should be construed as used in the same sense, unless otherwise indicated by the context or the nature of  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] things.  State v. Superior Court for King Co. 105 Wash. 676, 178 Pac. 827 (1919).  It must be presumed that the legislature in passing a statute had knowledge of existing statutes.  Benn v. Grays Harbor Co. 102 Wash. 620, 173 Pac. 632 (1918); State v. Thornbury 190 Wash. 549, 69 P. (2d) 815 (1937);Graffell v. Honeysuckle 30 Wn. (2d) 390, 191 P. (2d) 858 (1948).  RCW 36.33.110,supra containing the language pertinent to this opinion, was first enacted as chapter 185, Laws of 1907.  It had been in existence, therefore, forty years when RCW 28.57.250, supra was enacted as part of chapter 266, Laws of 1947.

            Therefore, unless the general provisions and purpose of RCW 28.57.230 through 28.57.300,supra indicate clearly a different legislative intention, their language forbids us from considering the joint school district in question as a school of the county desiring to expend the federal forest moneys.  No such contrary legislative intent is evident.  For emphasis we again quote the pertinent portion of RCW 28.57.250 as follows:

            "For all purposes essential to the maintenance, operation, and administration of the schools of a district, including the apportionment of current state and county school funds a joint school district shall be considered as belonging to the county in which the high school of the district is situated, . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Whether or not the phrase "county school funds" used in this statute was intended to include federal forest funds available for expenditure on schools of a county is a question not necessarily involved in this inquiry.  The question is one of general legislative intent, and from the statute as a whole it seems sufficiently clear that the legislature did not intend to allow the expenditure of county funds (including federal forest funds) on school facilities of a joint district by other than the county to which the joint district belongs, under RCW 28.57.250 et seq.

            Therefore, in our opinion your first question must be answered in the negative.  An answer to your second question would necessarily assume that a county may expend federal forest funds upon the facilities of a joint school district "belonging to" an adjoining county.  Inasmuch as that assumption would be incorrect, of course we cannot attempt to answer the question.

            We trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General