Loudoun County School Superintendent Robert E. Butt last night proposed a $77.85 million operating budget that includes a 10 percent overall increase in teacher salaries, a preschool program for "at risk" 4-year-olds and foreign language instruction for seventh graders.

The superintendent's proposal for the school year that begins next fall would increase spending by more than 14 percent over the current $68 million operating budget for the 13,640-student system.

"The crux of this budget is facing up to the responsibilities of a growing county," said Butt. "What is in this budget is what we need."

School officials expect enrollment to increase next year by about 4 percent -- about 550 students.

The proposed budget allocates $61 million, almost four-fifths of the total, for personnel, and it includes 78 new positions, Butt said.

Beginning teachers would be paid $23,172 a year, almost $1,600 more than now. The average teacher salary would rise to $32,326.

The preschool for "at risk" 4-year-olds would replace the county's Head Start program, which serves 40 children. The new program could handle up to 80 children identified as "at risk" for school dropout or failure.

The foreign language program would offer a semester of French or Spanish to seventh graders.

The School Board will hold a work session on the budget Saturday and a public hearing Feb. 6. The board is expected to vote its recommendation three days later.

The County Board of Supervisors will hold work sessions and public hearings on the county operating budget, including the school budget, during March and April, with final approval in early May. The fiscal year begins July 1.

The School Board this month proposed a $9.6 million capital improvements program to augment and expand schools. If the supervisors approve it, a school bond referendum could be scheduled as early as May.

Butt, 63, the dean of Virginia's 140 school superintendents, will retire June 30 from the job he has held for 19 years. He recalled last night that his first budget for the school system fit on two typed pages. His most recent one comes in a booklet nearly an inch thick.

A nationwide search for Butt's replacement is under way.