The Board of Education has proposed an $84.8 million operating budget, a nearly 5 percent increase over last year's budget, driven by an increase in salaries and benefits and some other increased costs.

New Canaan Schools Superintendent Brian Luizzi said outside of those costs, the district has limited the growth of other expenses to less than 1 percent.

"It is a $3.98 million request increase year over year," Luizzi said. "Besides insurance, salaries and electricity costs, it represents about a 0.3 percent increase. It reflects how we are able to contain costs in other areas and continue to grow and strive in the pursuit of excellence for our students."

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Luizzi's comments were made at a special joint meeting last week of the New Canaan Board of Finance and Town Council to hear school officials present their budget.

At the start of the four-hour hearing, the two bodies first approved the transfer of $120,000 in school maintenance funds to clean up and to conduct further testing work to confirm levels of PCBs and other toxins found at Saxe Middle School late last year.

The work would clear the way for a $12.3 million plan to replace the middle school's 58-year-old auditorium and expand arts and music instruction space to meet growing enrollment.

The need for the money is pressing, so the district can put its environmental firm, Tighe & Bond, to work coming up with cost estimates and a scope of remediation work so the cleanup can be done this summer and finished before the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, Luizzi said. The school's auditorium has been closed since December, after testing found the venue had PCBs in floor paint and other painted areas near it.

A lowball figure to remove PCBs and any other toxins from the auditorium might be $600,000 to $700,000, but could also be significantly higher, according to Nancy Harris, district director of finance and operations.

"We're on very tight timelines because the remediation we are talking about needs to be done while the school is empty," Luizzi said. "We can hit those time lines but they are aggressive."

Some members of the board and town council said they were concerned about not using the maintenance money for planned painting at Saxe. Sections of the school have not been painted since 1994, officials said.

First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said there might be a way to appropriate the money in the near future to restore the money for repairs and the overdue repainting of the school.

"I can remember seeing last year some disappointing photos of things that were not kept up and that block of money was set aside so that could happen by the end of this fiscal year," Board of Finance member Mary Codd said.

The budget includes a request for a new elementary school teacher, two seventh-grade teachers and supervisory aides at Saxe, and a half-time social worker to in part deal with increasing enrollment, Luizzi said.

Enrollment at Saxe Middle School is expected to increase by 43 students to 1,335 students next fall in a facility that is built for 1,200 students. By 2020-2021, the district projects the school will have more than 1,400 students, according to the budget.

In the long term, district-wide enrollment is expected to grow about 220 students, to 4,250 by 2020.

"When you have that many more students coming into a building you have not only classroom needs, but teacher needs, custodial needs, and supervisory needs," Luizzi said.

Salaries and benefits for 700-plus teachers and employees will comprise 81 percent of the budget, and will increase by $2.8 million next year to $68.6 million.

"It is mainly contractual based on the contracts with the six bargaining units we have," Luizzi said.

Town Council Chairman Bill Walbert said after starting as just an auditorium renovation, he believes it makes sense to also correct space constraints at Saxe to accommodate a more comprehensive level of programming in music and arts.

With increasing enrollment, there is also a concern that the town have a firm grasp if any other boosts in instructional space are needed at the school, Walbert said.

"We don't have enough classroom space and we may need a portable classroom next year," Walbert said. "We can't spend that much money and not have enough money for academic space."