SOUTH COUNTY : Districts Grapple With Cuts in Budget

Administrators in the Capistrano and Saddleback Valley unified school districts say they may be forced to cut programs and deny salary increases in order to absorb their share of $462 million cut by Gov. George Deukmejian from the state education budget last month.

In the Saddleback Valley district, officials estimate that the state cuts amount to $1.3 million in lost revenue. To make matters worse, this year's $96.4-million budget already suffers from a $1.7-million decrease in revenue and a $2.6-million increase in expenditures, officials said.

"We tend to be in a hole to start with," said Bob Cornelius, assistant superintendent for fiscal services. "We were in bad shape last year, and what the governor's done this year is going to make things worse."

Capistrano Unified School District officials are breathing a bit easier, having figured a 3% cost-of-living adjustment into their coming budget, the same percentage used in the state budget allocations. Other districts had counted on a 4% increase, as was originally provided in the state budget, and so are now having to absorb the difference.

The district also has about $5 million in a contingency fund intended to be used in case of emergencies, said Bill Eller, assistant superintendent.

But administrators in both districts said that cutting programs to balance the budget will become a definite possibility as costs rise and funds from the state are withheld.

"You either go get more money or you squeeze what you got," Cornelius said.

Some programs, such as those for California Assessment Program tests and driver training, have already been eliminated because they were not protected by Proposition 98, which guarantees that 40% of the state budget is allocated to education.

Teachers are also bracing for the effects of the cuts. Negotiations in Saddleback Valley for the 1990-91 contract were suspended in May as both sides waited for the state budget to be finalized. Talks will resume in late September, said Assistant Supt. Ken Anderson.

In Capistrano Unified, state budget cuts also are likely to result in another difficult year of negotiations with the teachers union. The only way to fund a salary increase would be to cut programs or dip into the contingency fund, Eller said.

"People just have to recognize that some $400 million has been taken from the districts' budgets," he said. "If programs or services need to be cut, we're just reacting to what is provided for us by the state."

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