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Official Opinion 98-12

Official Opinion 98-12

June 29, 1998
To: 

State Auditor

Re: 

Bonds may be issued by county school boards under applicable provisions of Title 36 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated for school system administration facilities, bus maintenance and storage facilities and warehouse facilities, including facilities for the storage of equipment, paper products, school lunch supplies and food products, upon compliance by the county school board with the notice of purpose and other requirements set forth in O.C.G.A. ¿ 36-82-1 et seq.

You have asked if the proceeds from general obligation bonds issued by a county school board may be used for the construction of facilities other than elementary school, middle school and high school buildings. Your question specifically relates to the use of such proceeds for school system administration facilities, bus maintenance and bus storage facilities and warehouse facilities, including facilities for the storage of equipment, paper products, school lunch supplies and food products.

General obligation debt of county school systems is incurred pursuant to the provisions of Paragraph I of Section V of Article IX of the Georgia Constitution of 1983 (the “local debt provision”) which references debt incurred “by any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of this state.” A county school system is a “political subdivision” for purposes of the local debt provision. See Pinon v. Walker County Sch. Dist., 203 Ga. 99, 102-03 (1947); Miles v. State, 96 Ga. App. 610, 616 (1957).

Enabling legislation has been enacted under the local debt provision to authorize the issuance of general obligation debt by local governments. See McKnight v. City of Decatur, 200 Ga. 611, 619 (1946). The local debt provision is implemented by applicable provisions of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (the “Code”), pertaining to education, and by applicable provisions of Title 36 of the Code, pertaining to local government. Under Title 20 of the Code, proceeds of general obligation bonds issued by a county school board must be expended for “building, equipping, or purchasing sites for the building and equipping of schoolhouses” or with respect to bonds issued for county school district subdivisions, for “purchasing school sites and for building and equipping, enlarging, and repairing schoolhouses, to include building and equipping, enlarging, and repairing lunchrooms and vocational and physical education buildings and facilities.” O.C.G.A. §§ 20-2-430, -431. Since pursuant to the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(b), the ordinary signification generally is applied to all words in a statute, the terms “schoolhouses,” “lunchrooms” and “vocational and physical education buildings” used in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-430 and § 20-2-431 would appear to be limited to buildings or facilities used directly by students. Therefore, the use of proceeds of general obligation bonds issued under O.C.G.A. § 20-2-430 and § 20-2-431 would not include the administration, maintenance and storage facilities referenced in your letter request. See 1975 Op. Att’y Gen. 75-94 (bonded indebtedness may not be incurred by a county school board pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-430 for the purpose of financing the purchase of school buses).

With regard to Title 36 of the Code, O.C.G.A. § 36-82-3(a) gives authority to issue bonds to “the proper officers of the county, municipality, or political subdivision” after a majority election vote in favor of issuing the bonds. See Cowart v. City of Waycross, 159 Ga. 589, 591-92 (1925) (Section 36-82-3(a) gives express authority to issue bonds when the statutory notice and election requirements are met). The term “political subdivision” historically has been interpreted to include local school systems in several contexts. See, e.g., Ty Ty Consolidated Sch. Dist. v. Colquitt Lumber Co., 153 Ga. 426, 427 (1922) (local school districts are subdivisions of the state for the purpose of the power to sue and be sued); Towns v. Suttles, 208 Ga. 838, 840 (1952) (the word “subdivision” as used in Section 1 of Article 13 of the Constitution of 1945 providing for voting on amendments to the Constitution includes the Fulton County School District); Ray v. Cobb County Bd. of Educ., 110 Ga. App. 258, 259 (1964) (the school district itself, rather than the governing school board, is the political subdivision entity). See also O.C.G.A. § 20-2-242 (the political subdivisions governed by county, independent and area boards of education are known as “local school systems”).

The Attorney General previously has recognized the applicability of Title 36 to county school system bonded indebtedness. See 1994 Op. Att’y Gen. 94-8 (the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 36- 82-1(e)(1) are applicable to a bond refunding issue by a county board of education). In light of the historical interpretation of the term “political subdivision,” the term “political subdivision” as used in Title 36 includes county school systems. The “proper officers” authorized by O.C.G.A. § 36-82-3(a) to issue bonds for a county school system are the collective members of the county board of education. See Ga. Const., Art. VIII, Sec. V, Para. II (each school system shall be under the management and control of a board of education).

While the proceeds from bonds issued by county school boards under Title 36 are not restricted specifically by the provisions of Title 36 to buildings or facilities used by students, such bonds may not be issued for project purposes which are beyond the power of county school boards to perform. Local school systems have broad power “to do those things properly determined to be necessary or incidental to public education.” Russell v. Fletcher, 244 Ga. 854 (1979). Since school system administration facilities, bus maintenance and bus storage facilities and warehouse facilities, including facilities for the storage of equipment, paper products, school lunch supplies and food products, are “necessary or incidental to public education,” bonds may be issued by county school boards under Title 36 for such project purposes upon compliance by the county school board with the notice of purpose and other requirements set forth in O.C.G.A. § 36-82-1 et seq.

Prepared by:

DANIEL M. FORMBY
Deputy Attorney General


1975 Op. Att’y Gen. 75-94 is modified as necessary to conform to this opinion.