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All That Glitters . . . : Lottery's Bright Promise Dims as Local School Districts Grapple With Revenue Drop in Face of State Budget Cuts

March 08, 1987|BETH UYEHARA | Times Staff Writer

When the first checks from the California Lottery were sent out a year ago, local school districts saw a chance to play catch-up on unmet needs and to enhance educational programs.

The money was put toward everything from creating drug abuse programs and hiring more teachers to repairing facilities and buying classroom furniture.

Some districts boosted teacher salaries or gave bonuses to staff members. Most school boards in Southeast Los Angeles County also gave money directly to schools for individually tailored programs.

School districts get 34% of total lottery revenues, but those revenues have dropped since the first flush of excitement when the games began in October, 1985. Payments to school districts have decreased from $51 per ADA (average daily attendance, a funding formula based roughly on enrollment) to $20 per ADA in the last quarterly payment.

Although school revenue from the lottery is expected to remain at a steady level, according to Robert Taylor, a spokesman for the California Lottery, school officials say the sharp drop has jeopardized their short- and long-term programs.

The decline in lottery revenues coincides with Gov. George Deukmejian's proposed 1987-88 budget, which includes a reduction in schools' cost-of-living adjustment from an anticipated 2.2% to a 1.1% increase.

Because of the governor's proposed cuts, some area educators say future lottery funds may be needed just to maintain basic programs. Depending on fluctuating lottery money, educators say, is risky business.

"Our worst fears are coming to pass: The lottery is going to supplant other funding," said Ted D. Kimbrough, superintendent of the Compton Unified School District. "They (state legislators) should clearly fund education and not use gimmicks like the lottery. This uncertainty erodes the stability of school districts. We might be better off without the lottery."

Lottery revenue accounted for an average of about 2% to 3% of most school district budgets the first year, according to Bruce Zentil, director of school financial services for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Payments to the districts in the first year, which included only three quarters due to the October start of the lottery, came to $128 per ADA for the fiscal year, which ended June 30. The projection for the 1986-87 fiscal year is $87 per ADA over four quarters.

Kimbrough and others believe that dwindling lottery funds won't even cover the reductions proposed in the Deukmejian budget. Kimbrough said that under the proposed budget, his district will have $29 less per student than it had this year, even with lottery money. Lottery revenues, he said, will be put into the general fund.

Norman B. Eisen, superintendent of the Whittier Union High School District, said the lottery "is hurting more than helping. We have lost ground since the start of the lottery." Eisen said he would like to see the lottery repealed.

These educators and others say the public and politicians believe that lottery revenue is greater than it is, and that schools' financial problems have been solved by the gambling revenue.

"I'm sure no one in Sacramento will say, 'We're cutting funding because of the lottery.' But first the lottery was passed, followed by cuts in other funding. The effect is the same," said Stephen Phillips, business manager of the Montebello School District.

ABC, Bellflower, Downey, East Whittier, Little Lake, Long Beach, Montebello, Norwalk-La Mirada and Whittier Union school districts initiated ongoing projects with first-year lottery funds. With the fall in revenue, these new programs may either have to be cut or cause other programs to be dropped.

ABC waited until it had received its full first year's income before allocating the money, then instituted a $1-million guidance counseling program and $240,000 worth of elementary school music courses.

Bellflower spent half of its first year's funds for a one-time stipend for teachers, and has committed half of the current year's lottery income to another lump-sum bonus, said Michael O'Bric, assistant superintendent of financial services.

Another 25% of the Bellflower district's first-year payment of $1.2 million was put toward hiring additional staff, such as teachers for children with special behavior problems. The rest has not been allocated, O'Bric said, while the district tries to determine where cuts will be made for next year.

Salaries Increased

Downey committed half of its first year's projected income for a 3.2% raise to "bring salaries to competitive levels," said Supt. Edward Sussman. Downey teachers' salaries had been in the lower 20th percentile of state school districts and it was difficult to attract teachers, he said. The salary increase will have to be paid out of general funds in the future, Sussman said, which will mean other programs may have to be cut.

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