The school district Monday night outlined three areas needing special attention as it puts together a proposed budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year: overcrowding at Osborn Hill Elementary School, racial imbalance in the district and reworking the high-school schedule.

Deputy Superintendent of Schools John Boyle presented those priorities before the Board of Education in Superintendent Ann Clarke's absence.

"We understand that financial times are not good, but we need some direction from the board before we do all the legwork," he said. "Are these the areas we should pursue?"

In response, several members of the board characterized racial imbalance and overcrowding at Osborn Hill as being urgent, but high school rescheduling as something that could wait a year.

The discussion was preliminary, intended to give the superintendant's office some direction as it prepares its budget. The board will set aside three meetings in January to work with the administration's proposal. It has to deliver a finalized budget to the state by Feb. 1, 2010.

"More than ever, we have to verify that this budget isn't just a request but a need," said Sue Brand, who was elected the board's new chairman earlier in the night.

She asked that the board's three main subcommittees -- facilities, technology and long-term planning; finance, negotiations and communications; and policy, curriculum and special programs -- begin meeting with the district's department heads in early December, which would be earlier and more in-depth than in previous years, to discuss specific aspects as the proposed budget develops.

"We want board members looking at the budget in its development," she said. "Get them that much more familiar with it."

The racial imbalance and overcrowding issues would fall to the facilities, technology and long-term planning subcommittee, Brand said. The high school rescheduling would fall to the policy, curriculum and special programs subcommittee. Other matters, such as a proposed budgetary audit, which would likely not take place until next year, would fall to the finance, negotiations and communications subcommittee.

Boyle laid out possible solutions for addressing the issues. Osborn Hill, for example, which currently has 548 students, could receive a bigger secretarial staff or a second administrator. Changing the high school schedules would entail professional development, increased staffing and larger cafeterias, he said. And improving racial balance could require introducing a "magnet school" system or greater marketing of existing techniques aimed at bringing results.

Later in the evening, Anna Cutaia-Leonard, director of elementary education, announced that preliminary studies show the district's racial imbalance has worsened this year, ending two year's of mild improvement. McKinley Elementary now has a 28.97 percent greater ratio of minority students than the district's least diverse school, exceeding the state's 25 percent benchmark.

Since a cultural and diversity task force formed in April 2007, a second preschool has been started at Burr Elementary and an opt-in, opt-out program established at McKinley, Cutaia-Leonard said.

"We are a little discouraged with the preliminary numbers," she said, adding that the task force is "a little out of ideas."

Official numbers from the state will be released in April.

Monday's meeting was the first for newly elected board members Paul Fattibene, Tim Kery and Perry Liu. Before the meeting, Brand was elected the board's new chairman, Pamela Iacono was elected vice chairman, and Stacey Zahn was reelected secretary. For the past five years, the board's chairman has been Catherine Albin. She'll continue to serve on the board but in a lesser role.

"It's with a certain amount of pleasure that I will be stepping down from this role and taking on a different position," she said before the meeting began. "Maybe I'll get to relax a little bit."

A vote then took place and she moved to a chair on the right side of the board. Brand took her place next to Boyle. Then a second vote took place and former Vice Chairman John Mitola moved to a seat on the left side of the board. Pam Iacono took his place. As she was reelected secretary, Zahn didn't move. Then the new board was set.