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School Bill Fell Victim to Bickering, Backers Say

July 05, 1987|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

Partisan maneuvering in Sacramento over a $1.1-billion state budget surplus killed a special financing bill that would have helped the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Torrance school districts, backers of the bill said last week.

As another result of the budget dispute, the state's schools also will lose their share of a $400-million supplemental appropriation that many districts said they had been counting on.

"We really feel betrayed," said Nancy Mahr, a spokeswoman for the Peninsula district. "The needs of education lost out to all the political shenanigans, and now we're back to Square One in trying to plan our programs for next year."

$400-Million Surplus

She said the Peninsula district's tentative budget submitted to the county last month included money from the $400 million in surplus funds that Gov. George Deukmejian had approved.

In the struggle in Sacramento over what to do with the other $700 million--return it to taxpayers or give it to public education--the whole $1.1 billion fell through a crack in the new state budget, and apparently the schools will get none of it.

To the Torrance and Palos Verdes districts, another blow was the defeat of a bill sponsored by the Peninsula district and carried by Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro). It would have provided $13 million in extra state aid for unified school districts, including the Peninsula and Torrance systems, that have top-heavy enrollments of high school students.

Extra Funding

Proponents argued that educating high school students costs more than those in elementary grades and so districts with higher percentages of upper-level students should receive extra funding.

Eighty districts statewide that have 2% more high school students than a statewide average for unified systems would have benefited from the Felando bill.

Felando said the defeat of his bill and many other Republican-authored measures came in retaliation for GOP insistence on returning the $700 million to taxpayers, instead of turning it over to public education as the Democratic majority wanted.

Within a few hours in the hectic days preceding passage of the budget Wednesday, Felando said, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee approved 115 Democratic bills while accepting only 21 measures written by Republicans.

"All or Nothing"

"It's sickening," he said. "I was willing to go along with a compromise that would have given $400 million to the schools and for toxics and AIDS programs, but the other side wanted it all or nothing."

Deukmejian is expected to use his line-item veto authority to trim the budget to conform with revenue projections, with some of those cuts further reducing funds appropriated for education. A months-long fight is expected over what to do with the $1.1-billion surplus.

Mahr said she felt the schools were caught in the cross fire between Deukmejian and state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, who had insisted that the schools need the $700-million portion of the surplus more than the taxpayers do. She said the highly publicized argument between the two state officials tended to polarize the issue of school funding, leaving little room for compromise.

She said the district would try again next year to win passage for the Felando bill.

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