ATLANTA -- Under pressure to provide classrooms for an expected wave of new students, the school board of Cobb County, Ga., will consider final proposals today for a bond authorization that could reach $265 million.

School superintendent Grace O. Calhoun confirmed last week that the board reviewed three plans to provide general obligation bond funding for varying amounts of new school construction and renovation.

The most expensive option calls for $265 million of GOs, which would be covered by a property tax increase of three mills, or $3 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The other two plans are for $230 million in GOs, covered by a 2.5-mill tax increase, and $195 million of bonds, covered by a 2.1-mill tax increase.

Calhoun said the board will hold a work session on the proposals today and could agree by its next meeting, scheduled for next Monday, on a final borrowing plan to bring before voters. The superintendent said school officials would target March 21 as the date for the referendum.

Under Georgia law, local GO issues must be approved by a referendum.

Calhoun said that strong community support for renovations bodes well for passage of a bond referendum.

"Equity is needed to provide educational opportunity," Calhoun said in an interview. "The community's not angry about [the prospect of] increased taxes -- they just want their money's worth."

Calhoun noted that two previous general obligation issues in 1987 and 1991, used to build new classrooms for the booming enrollment, were not followed by a tax increase.

Calhoun said an upgrade of county schools is necessary because student enrollment is expected to swell almost 25%, to more than 100,000 by 2000, swamping existing facilities.

Currently, more than 10% of the students use mobile trailers as temporary classrooms. Cobb County has added 30 trailers since 1993, and now has 265.

The superintendent suggested that the school board is likely to agree on a $230 million borrowing plan, which would fund less construction of new schools than the more expensive option.

"Parents want [the board] to create a 'standard' for all schools rather than building a lot of new facilities," Calhoun said.

"On a school-by-school basis we examined costs to reach a standard equalization," said Bill Rodgers, the board's associate superintendent of finance. "Some questions about minimum requirements may remain, but there is significant need to take action."

The school board estimates nearly 800 new classrooms will be needed to manage the enrollment surge, Calhoun said.

According to the board's spokesman, Jerry Huff, each bond option seeks to cover four needs: construction of up to 12 new schools, classroom additions to existing schools, general renovations, and additions of advanced technology, such as computers and science laboratories.

If the bond authorization is approved, the borrowing will be sold in three phases, with the debt service ballooning in 2005 or 2006, said John McLeod, the school board's finance director. Cobb County's current bonded indebtedness of $200 million will be paid off in 2004.

A delayed vote in 1993 on a $95 million bond authorization increased the urgency of the current proposals, said McLeod.

The school district's most recent new-money debt offering was $39.9 million of GOs in 1991, according to the finance director. In 1993, the district sold $81 million of refunding debt.

By mid-December the school board will begin issuing requests for proposals from prospective bond counsel and underwriters, according to Calhoun.

For its 1991 bond issue the board chose Peterson Dillard Young Asselin Powell & Wilson as bond counsel. Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan served as underwriter's counsel. Both firms are based in Atlanta.

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