December has been a month that Loudoun County school officials will remember a lot longer than they probably care to.

Early in the month, the county Board of Supervisors abruptly notified school officials that plans to sell bonds for the new Broad Run High School had been changed. On Dec. 4, the Board of Supervisors voted to schedule a March 12 referendum on the use of general obligation bonds to fund the $31.5 million project instead of the state government financing mechanism the supervisors had selected in July. The state method does not require that a referendum be held.

On Dec. 18, the Board of Supervisors shifted gears, but instead of returning to the original plan of issuing bonds without a referendum, the board rescinded the 1991 referendum and tentatively scheduled the ballot question for March 1992.

Despite the confusion, many county government and school officials say they are pleased with the outcome. They say the school bond referendum has a much better chance of winning voter approval in March 1992.

School Board Chairman C. Carroll Laycock Jr. said that "we're not losing anything" with the issue on the 1992 ballot. He and other school officials said that, assuming the referendum passes in 1992, the planning and construction process can be condensed so that the school could open on time in the fall of 1994.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Betty W. Tatum (D-Guilford) and Supervisor Ann B. Kavanagh (D-Dulles) opposed the referendum delay, expressing concern that it could postpone the high school's opening to sometime in 1995.

"What is Plan B?" Tatum asked before the Dec. 18 vote, implying that if the 1992 referendum fails, nothing will have been gained by the schedule change.

"The {one-year} deferral is not changing the method" of bond authorization, Supervisor H. Roger Zurn Jr. (R-Sterling) said last week. Schools Superintendent David N. Thomas added, "This district, happily, has a history of building facilities in a timely fashion."

The new school will be built in the Ashburn area and will replace the existing Broad Run High School, which will be converted to a middle school.

The projects have been in the works for longer than a year. Through the early stages, both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors indicated that the money would come largely from bonds sold through the Virginia Public School Authority.

Those bonds do not require voter approval, unlike general obligation bonds.

But in the past six months, a slumping economy, a special election in the Sterling District and several other factors changed the political climate, leading to the Dec. 4 vote for a March 1991 referendum. "We kind of caught the School Board by surprise," said Supervisor Steve W. Stockman (R-Broad Run), in shifting his vote two weeks later in favor of delaying the bond question.

The supervisors' unanimous approval of a resolution regarding a 1992 referendum is not binding. It is possible that the actual decision to schedule such a ballot question will be made by the current Board of Supervisors after Election Day next November and before the new board is seated, officials noted.

A $5 million bond referendum for preservation of sensitive natural areas will be held as scheduled on March 12, 1991.