A D.C. Court of Appeals panel ruled yesterday that Mayor Marion Barry does not have unilateral authority to cut the city schools budget, a decision that ended months of legal wrangling over $11 million.

The panel supported the D.C. school board's claim that Barry, by sidestepping D.C. Council approval to make the cuts, had violated city law.

School officials said they were pleased with the panel's decision, but expressed concern about losing the money. The current fiscal year ends next week, and officials said there may not be time to spend the $11 million.

"I was confident we would prevail," said board President Nate Bush (Ward 7), "but now the question becomes whether we won the battle but lost the war."

While the panel studied the board's case against Barry, it ordered that the $11 million could not be spent by the board or returned to the city. School officials said yesterday's decision leaves them only a few days to spend the money; whatever is not spent by Monday must be returned to the city.

Bush said he doubts the board will be able to spend more than $2 million in that time on the debts it has incurred buying equipment and supplies in the past month. He said the board may ask for a court order to protect the money even after the fiscal year ends.

"Otherwise, since we still need the supplies, we will begin the next fiscal year with a deficit of several million dollars," Bush said.

City officials, meanwhile, expressed disappointment with the panel's ruling, which, they said, they will not appeal further.