The Board of Education approved a 1.92 percent increase for the 2012-13 operating budget for New Canaan Public Schools at Monday night's Board of Education meeting.

The total operating budget request came to $74.53 million, approximately $1.41 million more than the $73.12 million operating budget approved last year. The 1.92 percent change also is lower than the 2.97 percent increase approved last year.

Superintendent David Abbey, who will retire at the end of the school year, believes the request is reasonable and does enough to provide the students of New Canaan with everything they need to continue to be successful. He, along with BOE Chairman Hazel Hobbs and other members, presented the request to the Board of Selectmen Tuesday morning. The selectmen were pleased with the low budget increase.

"Your operation budget is up 1.92, which is incredibly commendable," First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said. "Unbelievably commendable."

In fact, including capital requests, the entire budget request is only at a 2.39 percent increase. Selectman Beth Jones was particularly happy the school system is able to do so much with so little, especially when it comes to the arts. This past year, Abbey said the district put on seven theatrical productions, more than 50 concerts and 12 art shows.

"I'd like to commend you on all the wonderful things we do in the arts. I think that it's a terrible tragedy for kids that are losing the arts in schools and I am very proud of how you guys spend the money and get such great results from it," Jones said. "I think you are a fine example for other systems."

Abbey said a large part of that has to do with the town supporting those initiatives over the years even during these tough economic times.

"What you do counts so much in terms of impacting our kids," Abbey said to the selectmen. "I mean we can propose it but it doesn't happen without you so we appreciate that."

More Information

Fact box

The selectmen were thrilled with the low request because of the many obstacles facing the district including new unfunded mandates, enrollment numbers, utilities and insurance costs and collective bargaining agreements.

"Our enrollment is the highest it's been since 1977 with the exception of last year," Abbey said at a past Board of Education meeting. "Our enrollment has been difficult to project and we work ever harder to manage that."

The projected enrollment for 2012-13 is 4,087, or 29 students less than this year's record numbers. Another upcoming challenge is the accreditation process by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges of New Canaan High School.

"Next year, there is about $20,000 in this budget for accreditation," Abbey said. "That entails a self study and it also involves a visitation on behalf of 18 to 20 colleagues from around New England, who will evaluate the program and help us to achieve accreditation."

One of the most difficult challenges the district has to adhere to are several government mandates, including new bullying regulations.

"Everyone is opposed to bullying and everyone supports a good school climate," Abbey said. "For sure, we have to work harder to make sure that every student has a safe environment and also feels welcomed and supported. But this anti-bullying legislation requires us to do some things that I think are particularly difficult."

Abbey expressed concerns about dealing with cyber-bullying and discussed hypothetically a situation in which two students get into an online argument during school vacation.

"We have to sort that out when it comes back into the school building," Abbey said. "This is something that is new for us. It requires additional administrative time and challenges beyond perhaps where we need to be. Nevertheless, it is our responsibility."

The challenges associated with dealing with the new legislation will involve additional staffing and hours, Abbey said.

"There are additional aspects to the anti-bullying law which requires additional staff time that we'll have to work through, including committees and various kinds of staffing allocations that we'll have to spread out among existing staff," Abbey said.

With the Board of Education approval under its belt, the budget will still need approval from all major town bodies to be final.