LOS ANGELES -- Gov.-elect Jerry Brown warned educational leaders today to "fasten your seat belts" when he unveils his 2011-12 state budget proposal next month.

"It's worse than I thought," Brown said of the state's fiscal crisis during an education briefing at UCLA, one of a series of such sessions he's holding around the state. "It'll be a very tough budget."

Brown gave no specifics about the spending plan he plans to unveil Jan. 10, but said the state faces a $28 billion deficit and he plans to have budget agreements hammered out with lawmakers within 60 days. "I don't think we have a lot of time to waste," he said.

School district superintendents implored Brown to avoid further cuts in education spending and urged him instead to spread out the cuts more evenly across state agencies.

"We can't take any more cuts," said Bernie Rhinerson, chief district relations officer for the San Diego Unified School District. "We are at the cliff."

The state's K-12 and community college education budget has been slashed by $7 billion over the last three years. According to a Legislative Analyst's Office estimate, another $2 billion will be slashed from the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Education is the biggest item in the state budget, comprising 40 percent of state spending that includes both K-12 and higher education.

Brown noted that funding for some state services cannot be cut by legislative or judicial mandate. "When you sit at the table to carve it up, it's not an equal table because some people have greater protections," he said.

Spending on prison health care, for instance, will increase by billions of dollars because of a recent judicial order, Brown said.

School administrators offered several ideas, including legislation that would allow parcel taxes to be approved with a 51 percent vote instead of the current 55 percent threshold. Others asked for more flexibility in how school districts can spend state monies.

After Brown inquired about community college fees, California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott said any planned fee hike should be phased in slowly to avoid large numbers of students dropping out.

"If there is an increase, it ought to be gradual and moderate, and frankly, we'd like to be able to keep the money," he said.

Pointing to California's ranking as 43rd in the nation for per pupil spending, educators said the cuts are devastating schools and deterring college students from pursuing teaching careers.

"We're going to become basically a banana republic in the state of California," said Lisa Korbatov, president of the Beverly Hills Unified school board.