ATLANTA - The school districts of five fast-growing counties in the metropolitan Atlanta area - Gwinnett, Fulton, Cherokee, Cobb, and Fayette - are hoping to tap the municipal bond market over the next year with new-money borrowings totaling about $600 million.
The Gwinnett County Board of Education heads the list with a three-part, $225 million bond authorization that will be put 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 noted that student enrollment in Gwinnett County public schools, now 75,600, is expanding at a rate of about 4,000 a year, and has so far forced 8,000 students into portable trallers. The county is located northeast of Atlanta.
"Given our growth and the need for new classroom space, this is a crucial financing for us," she said.
Kirkland said the stand-alone election will seek approval for three separate ballot issues: $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. The school district currently has 64 schools.
If approved, the bonds would be funded with a 1.95 mill increase in property taxes - a $1.95 increase in the levy on each 1,000 of assessed property value.
Not far behind Gwinnett County in the size of its proposed borrowing is the Fulton County Board of Education, which will place a $175 million bond authorization before voters on Sept. 21.
"With about 2,000 new students a year, we just don't have places to put everybody, particularly in the northern part of the county," said Harold Grindle, assistant superintendent for business.
Grindle said the proposed authorization would fund 10 elementary. schools, one middle school, and a high school.
Fulton County, whose southern half encompasses the city of Atlanta, currently is responsible for 50,400 students.
He said the borrowing would not require a tax increase because debt service would come from the $12 million currently used to cover annual outlays for capital projects. Cherokee County, meanwhile is also hoping that voters will approve a bond referendum on Sept. 21, according to Candler Howell, the county school board's finance director. Howell said the county, which is located north of Fulton County and has 18,300 students, would seek a $52.6 million bond authorization to fund a new high school and middle school and three new elementary schools.
Debt service would be funded by an increase in property tax assessments.
In addition, officials at two other Atlanta-area counties said they are considering holding referendums, but have not yet formally approved putting bond authorization proposals before voters.
In Cobb County, which is northwest of Atlanta, finance director John McLeod said the school board will probably soon approve a resolution that would place a $95 million bond authorization before voters in March or April 1994.
He said most of the funding would be used to pay for new buildings to handle 5% annual growth the school district is experiencing. Cobb County's current student enrollment is 77,000, and is expected to grow 3,000 this year, he said.
Steve Sigman, comptroller for the Fayette County, Ga., School Board said that his school district plans to place before voters authorization for between $50 million and $60 million of bonds next March.
Sigman said the school district had considered holding its referendum in November, but decided to push that date back because of the plans in Gwinnett County.
"We are in the process of nailing down final numbers and expect the school board to okay in November plans to go to referendum March 15, he said.
Sigman said that if approved, the bonds would be sold by July in a single sale, with proceeds used to fund five new buildings, including two high schools, a middle school, and two elementary schools.
The school official said the building plan is necessary because of an "explosion" in student population that is expected to generate annual growth of about 6% a year for the foreseeable future.
Fayette County, which is south of Atlanta, has a current student population of 15,200, Sigman said.
In each of the five counties, officials are encouraged by the success of the Atlanta Board of Education, which passed a $94 million bond slate in a December 1992 referendum.
Atlanta's successful referendum followed the crushing defeat of a $150 million bond referendum in May 1988.
"The Atlanta effort showed school districts in the region that they can win a bond referendum even if conventional wisdom says that it is long shot." said Gwinnett County's Kirkland.