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Taxpayers bite back on school bonds. Voters resist increased school debt despite bankers' favorable ratings

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`IT was depressing,'' says Sandi Burgoyne, an employee of the Poway Unified School District in the San Diego area, recalling what happened this past April when voters turned thumbs down on a $58.4 million school bond issue. In fact, as Ms. Burgoyne notes, to say ``voters'' turned thumbs down is almost a misnomer: Rather, she says, some 90 voters - out of some 18,000 votes cast - were responsible for rejecting the issue, since a two-thirds affirmative vote was needed for approval. In Poway's case, 65.9 percent of the voters - more than 11,000 people, far more than a majority - had said yes to the measure.

So if there's a slight gnashing of teeth around Poway school offices these days, it's easy to understand why. The bond issue would have provided for a new high school and a new middle school to ease overcrowding. The bond defeat has complicated planning. Among options now being discussed there: double sessions and year-round classes. Meantime, the district, like others in California, is standing in line for additional state funding.

The Poway situation, financial experts say, is not unusual. Tempers can flare. Neighborhoods polarize. And for school officials, bond issues represent a tremendous expenditure of time and emotional resources. Thousands - indeed, hundreds of thousands - of hours can go into preparation of a bond issue: planning the campaign to win a favorable financial rating for the bond and taking the case to the public during an election.

During 1987, according to Joseph Kelly, a municipal bond expert and vice-president of Securities Data Company, of New York, some $9 billion in new primary and secondary long-term school debt issues were sold and actually came to market. That is down slightly from the $11 billion in new debt issues that came to market in 1986. Some $5.4 billion in new issues were sold during the first half of 1988.

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