Arlington School Superintendent Larry Cuban thought he could save the county money by refusing a pay raise last year, but school officials said yesterday his action could cost the county schools their accreditation.

By refusing a 4 percent pay raise last year, Cuban let his salary drop to $42.679 a year, or $484 behind that of his top deputy, Harold Wilson, who accepted the pay increase.

Under rules of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, that's improper. The private organization, which establishes standards for schools in 11 states, has a rule that requires a superintendent to earn the highest salary in his school system.

School systems that violate the association's rules risk the loss of their accreditation, said Charles E. Kurtz, the chairman of an association committee in Virginia. He defended the high salary rule as needed to prevent morale problems or political maneuvering by school workers paid more than their superintendent.

Rather than run that risk, Arlington school board members said they would urge Cuban to accept a salary of more than his deputy.

Cuban said yesterday he would be willing to accept the increase, which is expected to be proposed at a school board meeting Thursday night. He called the rule "a technicality" and said he doubted it would force the county schools to lose their accreditation.

"It doesn't happen with this kind of technicality," he said.