The Arlington School Board, sacrificing pay raises in order to save educational programs and prevent layoffs, adopted last night a $51.5 million budget proposal that includes 3 percent increases for employes who had requested raises as great as 11.6 percent.

The budget, which now goes to the County Board, is $800,000, or 2 percent, more than the total recommended by county officials. It is also $500,000 short of what Superintendent Charles E. Nunley had requested.

Board Vice Chairman Simone (Sim) Pace, who led the budget-planning process, said the request generally follows the board's criteria for such things as staffing, class size and the ratio of students to the number of textbooks.

Last month Nunley said he could not support a "bare bones" budget request and warned that as many as 58 staff positions would be lost unless his budget proposal was followed. Pace said last night the board saved nearly $500,000 from Nunley's recommendation by reducing cost-of-living raises from 4 to 3 percent.

Pace stressed that step increases that employes will still receive, retirement and hospitalization benefits will mean an overall wage and benefit payment increase of 6.4 percent.

"We feel pretty good about being able to provide a competitive figure," he said. Alexandria and Fairfax County school officials have also adopted 3 percent increases.

"I have no criticisms," Nunley said last night. "They saved a half-million dollars and that enabled them to do some more things."

Board Chairwoman Evelyn Reid Syphax said she initially supported the 4 percent raise but compromised in an effort to save writing and basic skills programs. "You trade off some things to get what you want," she said.

The budget proposal is 6 percent greater than current spending. Among its features are restoration of the school system's Outdoor Lab Program and the addition of $196,000 for a system-wide classroom computer program.