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QUESTIONS PRESENTED: May a school district enter into an agreement pursuant to Section 237.161(1), Florida Statutes, not to exceed five (5) years, for financing the purchase of a computer system and its related components: software licenses, technical support, classroom training, consulting services and associated expenses (including travel and living expenses of certain certified personnel) and computer hardware?
CONCLUSION: The purchase of a computer system and the ancillary services necessary to make the system functional constitutes a purchase of equipment for educational purposes under Section 237.161(1), Florida Statutes.
The St. Johns County School District intends to purchase a computer system for use in county-wide operation. It will be used in day-to-day operations of the school district, including business, financial, payroll, personnel and accounting matters, along with student assessment and achievement information.
The operative statute states as follows:
The Office of the Attorney General opined in AGO 97-15 that the leasing of equipment did not qualify under Section 237.161, F.S.'s provision in that the statute is exclusively intended for purchases. With the exception of that opinion, enclosed herein, a review of case law, administrative law, administrative rules, and opinions from this office did not provide any other direct guidance on this issue.
The primary inquiry is how "educational purposes" should be construed. The term is used on several other occasions in the Florida School Code, such as to define "educational facilities" under Sections 230.23(9)5. And 235.011(6), F.S. An, in Section 235.04(1), F.S., a school board may dispose of real property that is "unnecessary for educational purposes." However, the phrase does not appear to be defined in Section 237.161, F.S., or elsewhere in Florida School Code. As stated in Section 228.002, F.S., "the provisions thereof [of the Florida School Code] shall be liberally construed to the end that its objects may be effected." It is therefore, appropriate to look at the term in the broader context of the Florida school laws.
The scope of a district school system includes "all public schools, classes, and courses of instruction and all services and activities directly related to education in that district which are under the direction of the district school officials." Section 230.23(2), F.S. And, as noted in AGO 97-15, a school district=s authority to purchase equipment is derived from Section 230.23(10)(i), F.S., which permits it to "contact for materials, supplies and services needed for the school system." In consideration of these statutory provisions, it can reasonably be construed that a district-wide computer system serves the "educational purposes" envisioned by Section 237.161, F.S.
It should also be noted that the adjective "educational" is used, rather than the more limiting adjective "instructional" employed elsewhere in Florida School Code. For example, Section 230.23(7), F.S., addresses the purchase of textbooks, materials and "instructional aids." Section 233.07, F.S., et. Seq., which sets forth the process for state approval of instructional materials, defines them in a very narrow fashion to include only items with intellectual content that assist in the instruction of a course. Section 230.07(4), F.S. specifically states that "[T]he term does not include electronic or computer hardware even if such hardware if bundled with software or other electronic media." While that definition is limited to the textbook adoption process, it does illustrate the more limited us of "instructional" when defining equipment and materials.
As to the purchase of the items and services needed to install the computer system, these should be considered ancillary to the primary purchase, as they are necessary to make the system fully functional. If the district were to finance the construction of educational facilities, similar attendant costs would also be involved.
While this opinion has reviewed the legal implications of Section 237.161(1), F.S., the School Board of St. Johns County may wish to contact the office of the State Auditor General to provide more specific assistance as to the accounting issues presented by your question.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if this office can be of further assistance on this issue.
Margaret O'Sullivan Parker