Santa Barbara teachers marched and chanted up and down State Street last night, protesting the School Board’s refusal to increase salaries to what they claim are more reasonable levels.

At 5:45 last night, a crowd of about 200 teachers and onlookers, including parents with their children, demonstrated against the 1.5 percent wage increase teachers received this year. The protesters complained that the raise is significantly smaller than that of other teachers throughout the state, and asked that the School Board and the superintendent reconsider their position.

“The people of Santa Barbara support teachers,” John Williams, parent of a Santa Barbara middle school student, said. “We’re out here to move the school board and superintendent.”

The demonstration began at 531 State St. and teachers marched until they reached the school board meeting several blocks away in time for its 7 p.m. start.

“Hey School Board, now’s the time, what you pay us is a crime,” protestors chanted. “One and a half percent won’t pay the rent.”

In 2006, most California school districts were granted a salary increase of about 8 percent. However, teachers in the Santa Barbara district received a 1.5 percent increase, bringing the average annual salary to about $66,000. The Santa Barbara Teacher’s Association began protests in September, demanding a 6.5 percent increase, local teacher Brendan Carroll said.

During last night’s School Board meeting, four speakers addressed the board with their arguments, on which board members did not comment. However, a meeting with the district mediator will be held today, possibly resulting in a settlement.

Since the protests began, a district mediator has met with the SBTA and the school board to try to negotiate a settlement, but neither side has given in, protest organizer Ken Stevens said.

“So far, the teachers haven’t been budging, and the district hasn’t been budging,” Stevens said.

Carroll, who teaches at Franklin Elementary School, said the state recognized an increase in cost of living last year, which is why teachers in most other districts have received a raise.

“Goleta got six percent, Oxnard got seven-and-a-half, then they claimed there was no money left,” Carroll said.

Although Carroll acknowledges that there is a limited amount of money, he said teachers’ salaries are a very low priority, and often other programs receive extra money that should go to teachers.

“What we’re afraid of is the district saying the union is cutting art and music,” he said. “We don’t want to cut any programs, we just want to get paid.”

Williams said the comparably low wages that Santa Barbara School District teachers receive cannot keep up with the high cost of living in the Santa Barbara area.

“It is generally agreed that the cost of living in this area is getting more and more expensive. Sadly, our teachers would make better money if they were able to work in outside districts,” Williams said. “We have to make sure that these people who perform such special services for us are getting adequately paid.”

SBTA President Linda Mitchell said students deserve motivated teachers, and the protest was held to help students and teachers alike.

“The classroom should be a priority – we want a settlement now,” she said. “Tonight is the night, let’s make our voices heard.”

If the school board and SBTA do not agree on a settlement, last night’s demonstration and the protests of the last six months will only be the first steps in a long process toward a teachers’ strike, Stevens said. First, teachers must go through both negotiations and fact-finding investigations before having grounds to officially strike.