After announcing a preliminary 4 percent increase to next year's operating budget, the Board of Education approved a 3.3 percent increase Monday night. Board members also presented their budget to the Board of Selectmen Wednesday afternoon.

The original $73.8 million request from the workshop is now $73.36 -- a $2.3 million increase over this year's $71 million budget.

This revised number took into account the addition of another guidance counselor, a reading specialist and more laptops and printers for the career center after the Board debated on those specific issues at the last meeting.

Initially, the request was for 3.4 percent, but after Superintendent David Abbey suggested other ways to address the reading issue without another full-time specialist, the board agreed with his rationale.

"Reading will continue to be a focus," Abbey said. "I think we can do it in a variety of ways in the short term that do no require a reading specialist. I am not convinced in a tough budget time, that it is necessary. We may find that next year, we do indeed need another specialist but I think there are other ways to look into it right now."

The other area of interest was adding another guidance counselor. Many board members showed concern at the counselor to student ratio in New Canaan as being below standards.

"It is perhaps the only area we have found ourselves in last place," Chairman Nick Williams said.

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 loss, 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 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.

Dr. Abbey also pointed out 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.

Overall, the board displayed pleasure at this year's budget.

"Preliminary indicators show that are budgets are squarely in the mix of our neighbors and are on the conservative side," Williams said and cited Darien's Board of Education projected 8 percent increase. "Our budget combines educational excellence and fiscal prudence."

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