You have requested my opinion as to whether local school systems may lease school buses to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) for the purpose of transporting spectators to the venues and to shuttle ACOG staff and volunteers between parking lots, MARTA stations, and the venues. It is my opinion that local systems may lease the buses for this purpose provided that all costs incurred for the use of the buses are reimbursed to the school systems.
The relevant statute for purposes of your question is O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1075 which provides:
Notwithstanding any other provisions of law to the contrary, including Code Sections 20-2-188 and 20-2-411, county and independent school systems may use school buses to provide transportation to students and others to attend summer camps or to participate in other recreational or educational activities if the cost of such transportation and of any additional insurance costs deemed reasonably necessary by the school system are reimbursed in full from public or private funds other than public school funds.
Although the identity of potential users covered by this statute is not free from doubt, when interpreting statutes the cardinal rule is to determine the intent of the General Assembly keeping in mind the old law, the evil, and the remedy. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(a).
Prior to the enactment of this statute in 1990, this office opined that a local board of education could not allow community organizations or private recreational organizations to use a school bus for purposes other than transporting pupils to and from schools or activities integral to an educational program. 1985 Op. Att'y Gen. 85-34. Thus, the General Assembly plainly intended to broaden the scope of existing law with the addition of Code Section 20-2-1075. The preamble to the legislation indicates that the General Assembly was legislating with respect to the "powers of state and local officials relative to school buses." 1990 Ga. Laws 917. The courts have afforded governmental bodies wide discretion in managing public property where a benefit to the public can be shown. See, e.g., Smith v. Board of Commissioners, 244 Ga. 133, 139 (1979). Consequently, the only remaining question is whether use of the buses by ACOG would constitute transportation to "recreational or educational activities" within the terms of the statute.
Ordinary signification of words will be used in interpreting statutes unless another construction is demanded. O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(b). The American Heritage Dictionary 1035 (2nd College ed. 1991) defines "recreation" as: "[r]efreshment of one's mind or body after work through some activity that amuses or stimulates; play." In other places in the Code the General Assembly has determined spectator activities to be recreational. See O.C.G.A. § 51-3-21(4). In addition, case law from other states has adopted a broad definition of that term to include viewing of an athletic contest. See New Jersey Sports & Exposition Auth. v. McCrane, 292 A.2d 580, 594 (N.J. Super. 1971).
Given that some school buses have been purchased using local school tax funds, you should be aware that the Georgia Constitution includes a paragraph which restricts the use of locally generated school tax funds to the support and maintenance of the public schools or activities necessary or incidental thereto. Ga. Const 1983, Art. VIII, Sec. VI, Para. I(b). See generally DeKalb County Sch. Dist. v. DeKalb County, 263 Ga. 879 (1994); 1995 Op. Att'y Gen. 95-2. Applicability of this paragraph is questionable where all costs of use of the buses would be reimbursed by ACOG. The buses to be leased were presumably already purchased as a necessary and incidental educational expense. Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution it may be prudent to incorporate into any lease that no local funds will be impacted by the use of the buses thereby assuring that the agreement falls within the express statutory authorization of O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1075.
Based on the foregoing, it is my official opinion that local and independent school systems are authorized to lease school buses to ACOG for the purpose of transporting the public to the Olympic venues, provided that all of the cost of the use of the buses as well as any additional insurance costs are paid from funds other than public school funds.
WILLIAM M. DROZE
Assistant Attorney General