It was supposed to be a course in the science of debt financing, but for several members of the Fairfax County School Board, it turned into a prime lesson in the art of politics.

Every two years or so, the School Board places a referendum on the ballot for voters to decide if they want the county to sell up to $179 million worth of bonds to pay for building new schools and refurbishing old ones. And every summer before the fall election, the board appoints a committee to campaign and steer the referendum to passage of the bonds.

But at least two board members were in for a shock when they saw this year's list of committee members and found among them political adversaries they may run against next year.

Now, this may require a scorecard, so pay attention:

First, board Chairman Kohann H. Whitney (Centreville) named Judi Booe as co-chairman of the bond committee, which irked board member Carla M. Yock. Yock, a Republican, and Booe, a Democrat, could face each other next fall if both decide to run for the Mason District Board of Supervisors seat that Yock's patron, Thomas M. Davis III (R), is expected to relinquish to run against Chairman Audrey Moore (D).

Then, Moore's at-large appointee on the School Board, freshman member Nathaniel Choate, named Janet Howell to the committee at Moore's suggestion. That annoyed Whitney because she and Howell are longtime rivals in Reston who seem destined to meet in a Democratic primary one day if Centreville District's longtime Democratic supervisor, Martha V. Pennino, ever decides to retire.

Got that?

Yock and Whitney sure did. As one school official not involved in the behind-the-scenes shenanigans put it, "the fur was flying."

When Yock heard about Booe's appointment, she confronted Whitney in the back room at a School Board meeting and told the chairman that she considered the move a personal affront, according to sources. And when Whitney heard about Howell, she was equally unhappy and insisted that Howell not be allowed to make speeches for the bonds in their home Centreville District, sources said.

Odd as it may seem, appointments to seemingly arcane things like bond committees can become quite controversial.

For one thing, bond committee members have a tailor-made platform to build both a decent network and a high profile among the committed civic and school activists who come out to hear them stump for the referendum. It's a chance to hone up on public speaking, impress the people who might serve as foot soldiers in a future campaign and carve another notch on the all-important civic resume.

For another, the last thing an appointed School Board member who hopes to graduate to the elected Board of Supervisors next year wants is to share bragging rights about all the new schools or building renovations she secured with the very opponent she's running against. It's hard to tell voters, "See what tangible things I've achieved," when the other candidate can claim the same credit.

No one has questioned the credentials of either Booe or Howell, both of whom are well known in political and civic circles and have resumes a mile long.

Booe is former president of the county Federation of Citizens Associations, chairman of the county Civil Service Commission and is president of the affordable housing group called AHOME. Howell is chairman of the Virginia Board of Social Services, an aide to Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Reston) and former president of the Reston Community Association.

The participants in this mini-drama predictably hemmed and hawed when asked about possible political motivations.

Whitney said she appointed Booe because "I thought she would be a good person to interact with the civic association community." Asked if she had a confrontation with Yock over the appointment, she declined to answer. She also declined to comment on whether she was irritated about Howell's appointment, adding simply, "Nat {Choate} can appoint whoever he wants."

Moore, who personally asked Howell to serve and then suggested her to Choate, her School Board member, repeatedly ducked the question of her involvement or motives. Asked several times if she recruited Howell for political reasons, Moore answered repeatedly: "Janet'll make a good member of that committee."

In recent months, Moore has grown increasingly estranged from fellow Democrats like Pennino, who is Whitney's benefactor.

Yock was out of town and unavailable for comment. Choate, who likewise could not be reached, has been on the School Board for just a year and apparently didn't realize the implications of appointing Howell until after he agreed to do so, according to colleagues.

Booe declined to comment, saying that talk about her impending 1991 candidacy is premature and "just gossip." And Howell said only that she knew people were speculating about the situation and that she found it very funny.