SACRAMENTO — In a last ditch effort to help school districts facing budget shortfalls because of declining enrollment, the Legislature late Wednesday night approved a bill that provides nearly $13 million in relief to about 260 school districts across the state.
The bill, which also designates $3.5 million for community colleges with dwindling student bodies, allocates only a fraction of the $37 million to school districts that its sponsors originally sought. Sen. Robert G. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach), who authored the measure, said he scaled it back in the hope of persuading Gov. George Deukmejian to sign it.
"He has not expressed any great support for it to date," Beverly said after the Senate unanimously approved the bill shortly before midnight Wednesday. "But I am hopeful we can negotiate and discuss it."
An analysis by the Department of Finance of an earlier version of the bill recommended that Deukmejian oppose the declining-enrollment provisions. The department has not yet taken a position on the version passed by the Legislature since the $16.5 million was added to it Tuesday night.
A spokeswoman for the governor said Thursday that Deukmejian has made no decision about the legislation.
While the bill contains only rough estimates of how the money would be distributed, school districts in Los Angeles County are tentatively slated to receive about $1.7 million and districts in Orange County about $3.5 million. Los Angeles, Long Beach and El Camino community colleges would get a total of about $2 million.
School officials in districts with falling enrollment have appealed to the state for special assistance to meet budget shortfalls. Each year, districts receive state funds to operate, but the money is distributed on the basis of the number of students in the district. Officials in schools with declining enrollment complain that their operating expenses remain high even though their student populations are shrinking.
Must Keep Schools Open
"We still need to keep the high schools open," said Walter Hale, superintendent of South Bay Union High School District, which lost 435 of its 3,600 students last year. "You can't close the gymnasium, the swimming pool or the classrooms."
School officials said they are in a particular bind this year because Deukmejian cut funds for districts with falling enrollment out of last year's budget. Funds in this year's budget were cut in July by the Legislature, meaning that the districts will again go empty-handed if Beverly's legislation is vetoed.
"The bottom line is that districts like ours are in big trouble," said Lee Eastwood, superintendent of the Whittier Union High School District, which lost 430 students last year and expects to lose an additional 300 this year.
Based on the estimates, Whittier would get about $440,000--the largest chunk of money headed for schools in Los Angeles County. Eastwood said Whittier's proposed $41-million budget has an $800,000 deficit that assures that "we are going to be scrambling all year" even with the extra money.
NEW FUNDS FOR SCHOOLS
Los Angeles County school districts and the amounts they are likely to receive under legislation providing relief for districts with declining enrollment: 1. ABC Unified: $112,892 2. Alhambra City High: $110,545 3. Beverly Hills Unified: $110,888 4. Centinela Valley Union High: $39,281 5. Culver City Unified: $48,096 6. El Segundo Unified: $20,708 7. Hughes-Elizabeth Lakes Union Elementary: $627 8. La Canada Unified: $14,028 9. Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified: $204,408 10. San Marino Unified: $29,392 11. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified: $169,004 12. South Bay Union High: $224,219 13. Torrance Unified: $147,628 14. Whittier Union High: $439,063 15. Wm. S. Hart Union High: $15,293