The Board of Finance found little to quibble about in the proposed school budget last week when Superintendent David Abbey presented an operating budget and capital projects budget with a combined total increase of less than $2 million.

The draft operating budget of $71 million provides a 1.42 percent increase from the 2009-2010 approved budget. The hike falls just short of $1 million for the first time in many years, representing an effort to spend smartly without thwarting the district goal to achieve excellence, Abbey said.

"This is the second year in a row that, although our enrollment is flat, we've reduced faculty and staff," Abbey said.

However, there are a number of additions in the proposed budget, including one guidance counselor position, a technology aide and the implementation of the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) program in grades three and four.

The projected operating budget includes $437,840 in information communication and technology (ICT) requests, which, in the past, were included in the capital projects budget. These repositioned requests fall into the categories of infrastructure, professional development, software, ICT accessories and technical support, while hardware purchases and leases, totaling $558,061, will remain in the ICT budget.

"The total amount of money that we are asking for from the town has not changed; it's where it's positioned," Abbey explained.

Also included in this shuffle is the relocation of about $72,000 as a placeholder for a data warehouse from the operating budget to the capital projects budget.

The pending $319,156 Cognos software purchase, which would be paid over a five-year period, was recommended to the board by a committee after an 18-month research period.

"One of the most advantageous features is ... the idea of a dashboard," said Director of Information and Communication Technologies Robert Miller. "Your role [in the school] is going to affect the kind of dashboard you have customized."

Such custom dashboards would help users organize and present data based on their needs. For example, Miller said, a teacher may create a dashboard to display a student's attendance history, while an administrator may use this feature to facilitate payroll data analysis.

The software was also chosen by the committee for its sound technological infrastructure, compatibility with existing NCPS systems, real-time analysis ability and proven track record with data warehousing in school districts.

Another big-ticket item includes the proposed expansion of the FLES program. World Language Coordinator Lizette D'Amico and other administrators recently outlined a transitional program to provide each fifth-grade student with about 45 Spanish lessons for a trimester during the 2010-2011 school year. The program represents a solution to the board's request for the acceleration of the program rollout to introduce Spanish classes to the fifth grade next year, rather than waiting until the following school year as planned. The fifth grade is still on track to receive a full-blown FLES program in the 2011-2012 school year, D'Amico said.

The budgeted cost of this acceleration is $93,750.

The new program requires the addition of 1.5 teachers, a feature D'Amico identified as her biggest concern with extending the FLES program to fifth-graders instead of taking a transitional approach.

The board agreed that the transitional language program will only be introduced next year if D'Amico is able to hire staff that fit her expectations.

The Board of Education will present its budget proposal to Town Council in March.