LOS ANGELES - Moody's Investors Service yesterday reported on the credit quality of 10 fiscally troubled California school districts, including two that it downgraded last week.
Some districts "are facing the tough times better than others," so it is difficult to generalize about the overall credit quality of schools, said Ronald L. Junker, a senior analyst at Moody's and author of the report released yesterday on the 10 districts' financial status.
Moody's last week dropped its rating on $755,000 of Calaveras Unified School District certificates of participation to Baa 1 from single-A, citing a "deteriorating financial position" at the Northern California district.
The agency also reduced its rating on $200.000 of Antelope Valley Joint Union High School District general obligation bonds to Baa from single-A, citing "financial strain." The district received an $8 million emergency loan from Los Angeles County during fiscal 1992.
Statewide, the California Board of Education in July reported that 25 school districts out of an estimated 1,000 in the state had announced either qualified or negative certifications on fiscal interim reports filed with the state.
The state receives these fiscal reports each year from school districts. After an outside audit, the districts report positive, qualified, or negative certifications.
A qualified certification signals that the district will be unable to meet its fiscal obligations by the end of the fiscal year if certain events occur, and a negative certification means a district will be unable to meet its obligations by that time.
Moody's rates eight of the districts with qualified certifications. It also rates the two districts that reported negative certifications, the Antelope Valley district, and the Coachella Valley Unified School District.
The rating agency confirmed its Ba rating on Coachella Valley certificates of participation. Coachella received a $7.3 million loan from the state in May and is operating under a state-appointed trustee.
"By and large the rating companies have considered school districts, despite the cutbacks, very prudent," said William L. Rukeyser, spokesman for the state's Department of Education.
Moody's noted several new developments since its previous school district report in November 1991.
One such development is a new law effective this year that will "significantly enhance the fiscal accountability of school districts in Calfornia." Moody's said in the report. AB 1200, written after the Richmond Unified School District filed for bankruptcy in 1991, strengthens the authority of county and state officials and provides guidelines for emergency loans.
"AB 1200 creates a foundation for things to get better for schools in California," said Mr. Junker. "It attempts to make schools more fiscally responsible."
The law requires all districts that receive unfavorable certifications from the state to ask county officials for approval before selling non-voter approved debt, such as certificates of participation or tax and revenue anticipation notes.
In addition, AB 1200 establishes a Nov. 30 budget deadline. Counties can impose a budget on districts that fail to approve a budget by that date. The new law also allows the state to appoint a trustee for any district that receives a large loan from the state.
The state budget crisis also could have significant ramifications for schools since they depend on state revenues for a majority of revenues. But "specific credit implications cannot be ascertained at this time, as the state's situation is currently unresolved," Moody's noted.