After announcing a preliminary 4 percent increase to next year's operating budget, the Board of Education Monday night pared its request down to a 3.2 percent increase.

The original $73.8 million request from the workshop is now $73.3 -- a $2.3 million increase over this year's $71 million budget.

"I would like to reiterate that this is the first rough cut," Superintendent David Abbey said. "Sort of like sculpting, you start with a lump of clay and then take off."

While the majority of the increase is a result of more staffing proposals, Abbey and the board stressed that various other challenges weigh into the increase as well.

The biggest lost, Abbey said, is the end of certain federal grants like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. With the ARRA initiative expiring in the 2011-2012 school year, the Board of Education is left with a $500,000 hole in funding both certified and non-certified staffing.

Abbey said $250,000 has to be made up somehow and "that has been a challenge" for the Board.

Due to the end of ARRA, the Board has cut nearly four positions including special education teacher assistants. Out of the $415,656 that ARRA funded during the 2010-2011 school year, $255,500 will now be funded directly by New Canaan Public Schools.

"We need to sustain our momentum," Abbey said. "Students today have to compete globally in a way that we did not have to growing up."

According to Board Chairman Nick Williams, in 2007, the New England School Development Council projected New Canaan's enrollment to be 3,198 students in 2010. This year's actual enrollment is 4,096 students.

"We are 178 over that projection," Williams said. The Board wanted to stress that despite higher enrollment, quality has not decreased.

"I think 3.2 percent is quite an achievement," Williams added.

Dr. Abbey also stressed that due to the increase in enrollment, the Board was forced to make due with its current appropriations with a student increase of more than 100 in two years.

"We did not come back for additional funding," Abbey said. "Our classes were larger than we would have liked."

In terms of staff, the Board discussed adding elementary, math and special education teachers, among others.

One upside to the discussion included the Board's estimated savings of $270,000 in utilities by implementing different energy saving techniques. The Board continued to discuss how to streamline all efforts to make report cards and other information paperless in order to save money.

Another subject of debate was the possible hiring of another guidance counselor and their importance to the success of high school students as well as the installation of new computers for a career center computer lab at the high school.

The Board's second read of the budget is scheduled for Jan. 24 while its official presentation to the Board of Selectmen is slated for Jan. 27.