Pension and medical costs of school employees were a primary concern for Board of Finance members Wednesday night as they listened to the head of the city’s school district discuss his proposed operating budget.

“This is certainly something that this board is looking at very closely as we look at the entire budget,” finance board member Kathleen Murphy said of medical costs.

Supt. of Schools Joshua Starr responded that medical outlays are dependent on the negotiation process. “We’re subject to what we can reasonably get in arbitration,” he said.

However, finance board members were persistent in returning to the issue. “If there were an opportunity to get structural costs under control,” said Scott Mirkin, “it’s now.”

Starr presented a $229.6 million operating budget for 2011-12, which is 2.79 percent more than this year’s budget. It is a little less than Starr had originally wanted. His initial operating budget request was $231.9 million, a 3.86 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The Board of Education subsequently shaved it by $2.3 million.

Last week, Mayor Michael Pavia called on Starr and the Board of Education to reduce their budget even more. Pavia said an additional $1.2 million in cuts to the education budget would help keep a proposed 2.93 percent city property tax increase to under 2 percent. The mayor made the comment while presenting his own city operating budget before the Board of Finance.

But Starr said Monday he did not see where further cuts could be made. “I welcome anybody who wants to find cutbacks,” he said.

Other specific concerns of board members included transportation, management and sustainable use of grant funds, reducing custodial overtime and infrastructure investment. Throughout the discussion, structural costs remained paramount.

“We as a board are collectively focused on structural costs,” said finance Vice Chair Mary Lou Rinaldi. “Those costs are real. They’re affecting the long-term costs of the city, and that’s something we have to focus on this year.”

The Board of Finance will discuss Stamford Public Schools’ capital budget next week, March 22.

Do you have ideas about how education costs can be curtailed? What are your thoughts?