The Philadelphia School Reform Commission yesterday approved the refinancing of $99.9 million in bonds with new bonds to reduce the repayment costs.

The bulk of the new bonds will be used to pay off the district's long-term debt from the Dauphin County General Authority, issued in 2004, said Michael J. Masch, the district's chief business officer.

The district needed to refinance that debt, he said, to avoid higher costs because the credit rating of the credit enhancer for the Dauphin County bonds had been downgraded.

The total is broken down into three bond series, with fixed rates of 5.04 percent for $20 million and 4.26 percent for $31 million and a variable rate, expected to be about 0.57 percent, on $49 million.

Most of the bonds were used to pay for capital projects, including new buildings.

In February the commission approved a resolution to explore the refinancing.

And, in what district officials believe was a first, all three commissioners participated by speaker phone in the public meeting, which was held in the district's education center at 440 N. Broad St.

General counsel Sherry A. Swirsky said casting votes by phone was legal.

The commissioners who voted were Robert L. Archie Jr., the chairman, and Heidi Ramirez and Johnny Irizarry. Commissioner Denise McGregor Armbrister did not participate. Gov. Rendell's nominee to be the fifth member, Joseph Dworetzky, is awaiting state Senate confirmation.

The commission added the special session to its meeting schedule to handle the refinancing.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or