ATLANTA - Four Atlanta-area counties Tuesday approved a total of $258.3 million of new general obligation school debt, with Fulton County voters supporting a $175 million bond authorization.
Sharing the success of the Fulton County School System were the school districts of Cherokee, Bartow, and White counties. In each case the borrowings will help a Georgia school district build new buildings to relieve overcrowding.
"We are just very pleased with how well our referendum turned out," Fulton County School System superintendent James Fox said yesterday in an interview, referring to the 78% margin of voter support for the bonds. "This will get the vast majority of the kids who are now in trailers back into regular classrooms."
Fulton County, which encompasses and extends north of Atlanta, serves 50,500 students in the area outside that city's limits. The city proper has its own school system. A total of 9%, or 4,500, of the system's students, Fox said, are currently taught in portable classrooms.
The $175 million bond authorization, the largest in the school system's history, will fund construction of 10 elementary schools, one middle school. and a high school, as well as renovations throughout the system, Fox said. He said the borrowing, which could be sold as early as January 1994, would not require a tax increase because debt service would come from funds now used to cover annual capital outlays.
In Cherokee County, which is located directly north of Fulton County, voters approved a $52.8 million bond authorization for the school system. The bonds were approved by 56.2% of participating voters, according to Candler Howell, the system's finance director.
Howell said that one reason why the referendum may have received less support than in Fulton County was opposition from citizens who object to the increase in property tax assessments needed to pay off debt service on the bonds.
"I think voters may have been reacting to the threat of other taxes coming down the pike as well as this one," Howell said.
The school official said he expects the bonds to be issued in a single sale that will take place in October or November. Proceeds, Howell said, will be used to fund a new high school and middle school, and three new elementary schools.
The school system, which serves 18,300 students, currently uses 119 portable classrooms to teach about 3,000 students, Howell said.
Just west of Cherokee County, in Bartow County, voters approved the school system's proposed $23 million bond authorization by a 71% voter margin, according to a school system spokesman.
Proceeds from the borrowing, which will require a tax increase, will be used to build schools in the district. Currently, about a quarter of the district's 9,000 students are in portable classrooms.
Finally, to the northeast of Fulton County, in White County, voters approved their school system's $7.5 million bond issue by a 68% margin, according to superintendent Raymond Collins.
Proceeds from the bond issue, which will require a property tax increase, will fund construction of a new high school and renovations to a number of other schools, Collins said. About 400 of the system's 2,500 students are in portable classrooms.
The school systems of three other counties in the Atlanta area still face bond votes in the coming months.
Heading the list is the Gwinnett County School System, located directly east of Fulton County, which places a three-part, $225 million bond authorization before voters in November. According to Berney Kirkland, the school board's director of community relations, it will be the largest school bond vote in Georgia history.
Kirkland said the stand-alone election will seek approval of three separate projects: $190 million to fund construction of 10 new schools and renovations of 24 existing buildings; $25 million for new computers; and $10 million for a health sciences classrooms building.
If approved, the bonds would be funded with a 1.95 mill increase in property taxes, a $1.95 hike in the levy assessed on each $1,000 of assessed property value.
In Cobb County, which is just west of Fulton County, officials hope to place a $95 million bond authorization before voters in March 1994 or April 1994.
And in Fayette County, which is directly south of Fulton County, school officials plan to ask voters next March to approve between $50 million and $60 million of bonds.