Headteacher David Robinson was faced with a stark choice last year: putting students on a four-day week or setting a budget with a pound;300,000 deficit.
He and governors at Ullswater community college, Cumbria, opted for the deficit. "Without a shortfall budget, the cuts would have been draconian," he said.
His school is already woefully short of books - a fact recognised by inspectors. "Successive Office for Standards in Education reports have said we are way below expected level of expenditure on educational resources," Mr Robinson said.
He believes the Government has put more cash into education and says improvements are "too precious to be put at risk". Yet the 4 percent offered this week is less than the 7 percent he needs just to cover pay rises. This means class sizes will probably rise and enrichment activities be cut next year. "The sadness is that they are things... (that) have a dramatic impact on standards," he said.
The college has 1,400 students aged 11-18, 2,500 part-time adult students, the equivalent of 100 full-time teachers, and a budget of pound;4.8 million.
Mr Robinson, who has been at the college since 1990, says the stability of his staff and the cost of pay rises add to his problems. "Clearly it's insane to be thinking of dumping experienced staff, but the expense of the incremental drifts means that there is very little room for manoeuvre."
Cuts have been made in every possible area. A German teacher who left was not replaced, so students who used to take two languages can now only study one. And long-term planning is sacrificed in favour of stop-gap solutions.
"It's very tempting to cross your fingers and hope the temporary repairs to roofs will hold a little longer."