District youths were told yesterday there would be fewer jobs this summer than last and an earlier, firm registration deadline, but none of the management mishaps or crises that plagued the 1980 youth summer employment effort.

Ivanhoe Donaldson, acting director of the city's Department of Employment Services, also raised the possibility that for the first time in the program's seven-year history, lower-income youths may have to be given priority in the shrinking job pool over youths from families with higher incomes. He said this would occur if the Reagan administration does not come through with the $8 million in federal aid city officials expect to receive to help pay the youths' salaries.

City officials are expecting 19,900 14- to-21-year-old District youths to register for as many jobs, a more modest estimate than last year's highly touted goal of 30,000 summer jobs -- goal that fell about 8,000 short of the mark.

As of last week, the city had about 14,000 job pledges from employers Youths have until May 31 to register for the jobs, a deadline that Donaldson said would not be extended. Donaldson told a City Council committee that young people last summer were still registering for the program long after it had started.

The summer jobs program, once the key element in Mayor Marion Barry's campaign against yough unemployment, has been plagued every summer by confusion and mismanagement. Some youths did not receive their paychecks while some others who did stopped showing up for work. Some youths spent their time doing menial tasks, while others had little or no supervision.

Late last year, Barry dispatched Donaldson, his top political aide and troubleshooter, to the beleguered employment services department.

Donaldson recounted all of the problems that plagued the 1980 effort. "A crisis ensued," Donaldson conceded. "Chaos started to set in." This year, he promised, "the program will be devoid of major management crises."

Donaldson said that for two weeks next month, the city will conduct a major registration drive throughout the city's public, private and parochial schools.

He said that this year the city will require all participating young people to go through an orientation procedure. Last year, the orientation was voluntary.

There will be a maximum of 15 youths allowed to work under any one supervisor at a work site this summer. Last year, the most problem-plagued year the project has ever seen, Donaldson said that there were sometimes up to 400 young people working under a single supervisor.

Donaldson also said that his department has reduced the number of participating businesses in the program, because last year "there were too many hands in the pot."

Despite Donaldsonhs pledges, some critics of the programs's management said they are still pessimistic that this year's program wil be run any more smoothly than in previous summers. There have been complaints that the program still lacks adequate staffing and leadership, while others have said that the city should have begun registration much earlier, even as early as last Christmas. Registration began in late February.

"Now Donaldson's coming out with all these declarations that they have it all together," said Rick Sowell, executive director of the Crispus Attucks Park of the Arts community group, which teaches art and music to youngsters. "We've heard that before and gotten burned."

Donaldson said that year's program is still plagued by a lack of top-level staff and contended that the negative publicity surrounding previous years has made recruitment difficult. "It's one of the frustrations," Donaldson said. "Staffing has been a historical problem."

The other major problem, paying the workers on time, will be resolved by having the city -- and not a myriad of private contractors -- prepare the lists this year of those who will receive paychecks and the amount they will be paid. The city will get consulting help from IBM, according to Matthew Shannon, Donaldson's assistant. The Service Bureau Corp., a subsidiary of Riggs National Bank, wrote the checks last year and will provide the service again, Shannon said.