The Santa Barbara School Board laid off 48 local teachers Tuesday night, adding to the already tense relations between the district’s educators and the board.

Earlier in the year, a large percentage of Santa Barbara’s 800 public school teachers protested a 1.5 percent increase in their annual wages granted to them by the school board, claiming the raise was too small to match the rising cost of living in the county. In March, the demonstrating teachers finally reached a settlement school board, agreeing to a 3 percent wage increase for the time being, with possible further raises in years to come.

According to the school board, one of the reasons the teachers were laid off was to accumulate money for the raise, which comes at a time when public school enrollment is declining all over the county.

A hearing was held last week to give the terminated teachers a chance to make a case in front of an administrative law judge and, essentially, plead for their jobs. The judge did not allow any exemptions, and at their board meeting on Tuesday, the school board upheld the judge’s decision, leaving almost 50 of the teachers – who all work at local middle and high schools – unemployed.

The remaining teachers in the district will receive raises at the beginning of the 2007-08 school year. The salary of entry-level teachers will increase from $40,250 to $42,700, and the salary of the highest-paid teachers will increase from $72,160 to $76,555.

Nicole McKee, head of the Visual Arts and Design program at Santa Barbara High School, was the only fired teacher who attended the board meeting. McKee told board members she should be allowed to keep her job because of a district policy, which states that teachers with unusually specialized skills should be given special consideration.

“I am frightened that the program I have devoted my last five years to will dissolve without me,” she said.

As a result of low enrollment and declining tax dollars devoted to Santa Barbara’s school system, the district has cut out specialized programs in the last few years, including after-school activities, Gifted and Talented programs and art and music classes. McKee said she was not surprised her program was one of the first to be eliminated.

“Because I am an art teacher, I am always on the chopping block,” McKee said. “I love my job. It is where I want to be my entire career. I am hopeful that they will rescind my notice and hire me back.”