Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1957 No. 49 - Apr 16 1957
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


It is within the discretion of the directors of first class school districts to grant a leave of absence or contract in the future with a teacher.

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                                                                   April 16, 1957

Honorable Paul Klasen
Prosecuting Attorney
Grant County
Ephrata, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 49

Dear Sir:

            This is in answer to your request for an opinion on the following questions:

            (1) May the directors of a first class school district grant a year's leave of absence to (a) a teacher desiring to take graduate studies for one year; (b) a teacher desiring to spend one year with her children before they attend public school; and (c) to a teacher desiring to accept overseas employment for a one year period.

            (2) Do the school directors have the authority to contract for a teacher's employment in the future for one year?

            It is our opinion that these are matters which have been left to the discretion of the school directors by the legislature.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]


            The statutory provision to which you refer in your letter is RCW 28.58.100 (1) (1955 Supp.), and provides as follows:

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

            "(1) Employ for not more than one year, and for sufficient cause discharge teachers, and fix, alter, allow and order paid their salaries and compensation;"

            In addition, RCW 28.62.180 (5), relating to the authority of the school directors of a first class district, provides in part as follows:

            "Every board of directors of a school district of the first class, in addition to the general powers enumerated, may:

            "(5) Employ, and, for cause, dismiss teachers and janitors; determine the length of time over and above eight months that school is to be maintained:  Provided, That for purposes of apportionment no district shall be credited with more than one hundred and eighty-three days' attendance in any school year;"

            The basic rule in the state of Washington on the authority of school directors in employing teachers is found in Seattle High School Chapter No. 200 of the American Federation of Teachers v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424.

            That case involved an action brought by the American Federation of Teachers to enjoin the directors of Seattle School District  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] No. 1 from enforcing or attempting to enforce a resolution adopted by the board of directors with reference to the future employment of teachers.  In discussing the question before the court, the opinion states as follows:

            "* * * In deciding the question, it must be understood of course that, as the school district is a municipal corporation created by the legislature, it, acting through its board of directors, can exercise only such powers as the legislature has granted in express words, or those necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to powers expressly granted, or those essential to the declared objects and purposes of the municipal corporation.  State ex rel. Winsor v. Mayor & Council of Ballard, 10 Wash. 4, 38 Pac. 761.

            "* * * But we have noticed that express power has been given to the board to employ teachers, and we find nothing in the constitution or statutes limiting that right so far as this case is concerned, from which it follows, we think, that the board has full and complete power in that respect.

            "* * *

            "Nor can the courts be successfully invited into a consideration of the policy of the resolution, for that would lead to supervisory control of judgment and discretion in the selection and employment of teachers which the statute has given exclusively to the board of directors."

            Although this office has never issued a specific ruling on the question of the authority of a board of directors to grant  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] a leave of absence to a teacher, the matter has been discussed in several opinions.  In an opinion dated November 25, 1949, to the prosecuting attorney of Clark County, the question presented was whether a school district could dismiss a school teacher because she had asked for a leave of absence for four months for the birth of an expected child.  This office ruled in that opinion that it was doubtful whether a school district could dismiss the teacher because of her pregnant condition.  In discussing the question, the attorney general refused to pass upon the right or duty of the school board to grant the request for a four months' leave of absence because "we believe this is a matter resting within the discretion of the directors."

            This question was also considered in an earlier opinion, August 15, 1945, to the prosecuting attorney of Kitsap County.  The opinion involved the legality of two proposed collective bargaining contracts submitted to the school district.  One contract contained a provision that any teacher leaving the service of the district and thereafter returning to such service within five years, should, if she met the "regular prevailing education requirements," be placed on the next higher step on the salary schedule from the step she was on when leaving.

            This office considered the matter to be an administrative question rather than a legal one, and stated that although not informed as to the practice followed by the board in advancing teachers on the salary schedule

            "The provisions in the contract for sick leave, sabbatical leave and leaves for self-improvement are administrative matters which present no legal question.  * * *"

            Accordingly, in view of the decision in the Sharples case and the discussion of this matter in previous attorney general's  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] opinions, it is the view of this office that the granting of sabbatical leaves or leaves of absence in the three situations outlined by you are matters which the legislature has delegated to the board of directors in the exercise of its discretion as authorized by law.

            In answer to your second question as to whether the board can contract for teachers' employment in the future for one year, it is our opinion that this matter is also one which has been left to the discretion of the board of directors by the legislature and that the courts will not interfere with the actions of the board as long as there is no unreasonable or arbitrary exercise of such discretion.  In the early case ofTaylor v. School District, 16 Wash. 365, the court discussed the authority of a board to contract as follows:

            "The district school board is a corporation representing the district.  It is a continuous body.  While the personnel of its membership changes, the corporation continues unchanged.  It has power to contract.  Its contracts are the contracts of the board, and not of its individual members.  An essential characteristic of a valid contract is that it is mutually binding upon both the parties to it.  A contract by a school board the duration of which extends beyond the term of service of one of its members is not therefore invalid for that reason."

            See, also,Splaine v. School District, 20 Wash. 74, and the following opinions of this office: June 28, 1948, to the prosecuting attorney of Kittitas County; October 19, 1950 [[Opinion No. 49-51-371]], to Representative W. E. Carty; and August 21, 1952, to the prosecuting attorney of Garfield County [[Opinion No. 51-53-384]], all of which hold that a contract for the employment of a teacher which is executed by a school board is binding upon a subsequent board.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General