ATLANTA -- Broward County, Fla., is considering the sale of up to $1.2 billion in bonds to fund a construction and renovation program for the county school district.

A blue-ribbon panel, set up by the school board to locate funding sources, will probably focus on three finance options: a bond issue, a one-penny sales tax increase, or a combination of the tax and borrowing, according to Henry L. Robinson, the school district's treasurer.

The bond option to be reviewed could include three different amounts of debt: a $480 million issue, a $700 million issue, or a $1.2 billion issue.

In an interview yesterday, Robinson said the panel may bypass a bond issue altogether and recommend a one-cent sales tax increase to fund the construction program on a pay-as-you-go basis. The tax increase would bring in about $95 million a year.

The panel's co-chairman, John Ruffin, said a subcommittee will poll the community over the next month to gauge support for a bond issue or sales tax increase. Either option must be approved by voters, and Ruffin said a referendum could be held as early as April 1995.

The committee "needs to identify [funding] the community will support," he said. "But our options are limited by the extreme size of the problem."

Although building and renovation costs exceed $1 billion, the school board will need to raise, at minimum, $500 million over a five- year period, Ruffin said.

The county expects 50,000 new students by the year 2000, an enrollment surge requiring construction of nearly 50 new schools, according to another panel member, Ray de LaFeuilliez. The school district uses 2,400 portable classrooms to handle overcrowding, said de LaFeuilliez, who is also the school board's facilities director.

School districts, under Florida law, must assemble a five-year capital budget each year. A capital budget projects the cost of school construction, renovation, equipment, and debt service payments.

Officials say that pressure on the school district to fund capital needs will increase over the next two years as state money for school building shrinks.

They note that a tax on electric and telephone bills, used to finance Florida's statewide school construction program, expired this fiscal year. A shortfall in the Public Education Capital Outlay "flow through" fund could cut the Broward County allotment by up to 60% -- from $42 million to $17 million in fiscal year 1996.

But "there is little political will for any revenue" increase, said committee member Lisa Maxwell.

"Voters are skeptical the school board will spend the revenue appropriately," said Maxwell, who is also associate director for the Builders Association of South Florida.

Robinson, the school board's treasurer, said the three bond scenarios would require millage increases of 1.47 mills on the $480 million issue, 1.87 mills on the $700 million issue, and 2.4 mills on the $1.2 billion issue, respectively.

"The pay-as-you-go sales tax appeals to the board," said de LaFeuilliez. "But the bond issue has better chance of passing [a vote] because of the condo community."

The 1987 bond referendum, approved by a slim margin, was helped by strong support from condominium owners in Broward County, de LaFeuilliez said.

He said the proposal must rely on a grassroots "public-input" campaign to insure community approval.

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