Superintendent David Abbey revealed a 2.5 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 in this first read came to $74.97 million, approximately $1.85 million more than the $73.12 million approved operating budget from last year. The 2.5 percent change also is lower than the 2.97 percent increase approved last year.

Abbey believes the request is reasonable and does enough to provide the students of New Canaan with everything they need to continue to be successful.

"I would like to make a point that preparing students to excel in a global economy and a rapidly changing world requires a future-oriented district approach and investment in curriculum instruction and assessment," Abbey said. "That is the No. 1 assumption of the board's assumptions and priorities, and in many respects, what drives the work that we do and the budget that we put together for this evening.

"I think we have struck a balance between what students need to do in order to be competent and in order to thrive in an ever increasing competitive world environment and providing the strategic investments necessary to do so with an understanding that the current environment is one that really calls for a fiscally prudent approach."

Many of the challenges associated with developing this year's budget dealt with issues such as enrollment numbers, utilities and insurance costs, collective bargaining agreements, and some new unfunded mandates

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

The projected enrollment for 2012-13 is expected to be 4,087, 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 regulations on bullying.

"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 cited a hypothetical situation in which two students get into an argument over the Internet while they are away on 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 first read complete, Abbey hopes the Board of Education will be able to approve a budget by Jan. 23, which they can then present to other town bodies for approval.

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