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Funding for City Schools May Fall $6 Million Short


San Diego city schools could be about $6 million short of the money needed to keep all their desired programs going next year.

Or they could be short as much as double that amount. Or somewhere in between.

That's the reading of state budget tea leaves Supt. Tom Payzant gave his trustees Tuesday as he cranked up his own district's annual budget process.

Because of the many uncertainties about Gov. Pete Wilson's proposed state budget--which provides more than 90% of city schools coffers--Payzant could only make the most preliminary of guesses Tuesday and warn board members to expect the unexpected later this year.

To continue its existing educational services, the nation's eighth-largest urban district will need about $566.5 million next year. But Wilson's initial proposal, which state legislators will toss around for the next six months or more, would leave San Diego with about $560.4 million.

And, as Payzant pointed out, Wilson's willingness to fund schools even to that extent depends on legislators going along with his plan to whack health and welfare services that compete for the insufficient pot of state revenue.

"It's a plus that the governor has focused on education, and it could have been a lot worse if the cuts proposed for other areas were applied to education," Payzant said. "For that we should be grateful." At this time last year, Payzant was forecasting a district deficit of $37 million, which ended up at $29 million and forced several painful cuts in educational services.

But Payzant said "the less rosy side" of Wilson's plan includes the certainty that the Legislature will fight Wilson on at least some health and welfare issues and some optimistic scenarios about tax collections that may not come to pass.

And Wilson's initial proposal predicts that lottery receipts will fall to $85 per pupil from the current level of $111 per student, the lowest figure in the lottery's six-year history. A 1.5% cost-of-living increase proposed by Wilson probably would end up being used to repay funds needed to cover pension plans, rather than be targeted for any salary increases, Payzant said.

Payzant's figures on Tuesday make no allowance for salary increases for district employees, whose contracts expire in June. Negotiations with the teachers union began last week.

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