After months of negotiation between the Santa Barbara Teacher’s Association and the school board over a possible salary increase, a tentative settlement was reached last Thursday.

Earlier this school year, teachers in the Santa Barbara School District were granted a 1.5 percent wage increase, bringing their annual salary up to about $66,000, while most other districts throughout California received increases of up to 8 percent. Teachers and community members have been protesting the comparably low wage increase ever since, complaining that the high cost of living in the area warrants a larger raise.

Barbara Keyani, school board coordinator of special projects and communication, said teachers and the school board have met with a district negotiator multiple times since the fall. Neither side budged until their Feb. 26 and March 1 meetings, when the board’s negotiation team proposed a gradual salary increase over the next three years.

Keyani said although both negotiation teams have worked long and hard for the settlement, it has not been ratified by the SBTA. Until the teachers confirm the terms of the wage increase and both sides sign an agreement, the existing 1.5 percent raise is still in effect.

“We still have a long way to go,” she said. “It still has to go through the teacher’s association and the county.”

The key terms of the agreement include a three percent wage increase each year for the next three school years, starting with 2006-07. In addition, the teachers will need to agree to increased class sizes beginning in the 2007-08 school year.

SBTA member Ken Stevens said he thinks the tentative settlement is satisfactory to most teachers in the district.

“I definitely think the plan is fair and reasonable,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but nothing is perfect. They usually pay us on an annual basis, so it’s good that the board is committed to an increase over three years.”

According to a press release from the school board, now that the school board has proposed a settlement, it must go through three additional steps in the next few weeks before it takes effect. First, the teachers must ratify the agreement. Once that happens, the board of education and county education office must consent to the agreement.

The board will present the Santa Barbara teachers with the proposed settlement at next Tuesday’s board meeting, and then the teachers will have three weeks to decide on their stance and take a vote, school board member Christine Robertson said. If they ratify the agreement, it will then move on to the board of education and county education office to be approved.

“We think this is very good for [the teachers],” Robertson said. “There is always compromise that has to be made, and not everybody is going to be happy, but I’m hopeful.”

SBSD Superintendent Brian Sarvis said he is optimistic as well.

“These are not easy times, particularly when we are in a period of declining enrollment,” Sarvis said in the press release. “There are still tough decisions ahead to make this work financially, but I am confident that we are up to the challenge.”

In mid-February, approximately 200 teachers and parents gathered to demonstrate against the relatively small wage increase, claiming that teacher salaries are a low priority. At the protest, members of the SBTA said students deserve motivated teachers, and a larger raise would help students and teachers alike.

Stevens said the February demonstration, along with other actions taken by teachers, have been very helpful – before they began protesting, the school board was resolute in only raising the wage by a small amount.

“Actions that we’ve taken in the past six or seven months have been extremely successful,” Stevens said.

Robertson said the tentative settlement will either be ratified or rejected by mid-April.

“We all want to move forward so that we can continue to focus on a top notch academic program for our students,” Sarvis said in the press release.