The Santa Barbara school board Tuesday night cut nearly $4.1 million from the district’s $93 million discretionary budget for the 2008-09 school year, eliminating the jobs of teachers, psychologists, special-education aides, elementary school health assistants and a junior high assistant principal.

Largely the result of the California budget debacle, the cuts also did away with a program that keeps ninth-grade math classes small.

The most contentious item Tuesday night involved the board’s decision to cut $320,000 from the staffing level at San Marcos High, which translates into about five full-time teaching positions.

The cut was made to begin the two-year process of bringing San Marcos’ staff-to-student ratios more in line with that of the district’s other two high schools. Class sizes at San Marcos are capped at 31, while at Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos high schools the cap is set at 35.

The cut on the San Marcos High item was less than final, however, because the school’s current staffing levels were codified last year in a multiyear teachers union contract. Even though the board made the reduction, top-level administrators and the teachers union still must re-negotiate the matter over the next few weeks.

The matter is especially heated because some teachers at San Marcos fear it could ultimately mean the end of their beloved block schedule, in which classes last 90 minutes instead of the traditional 55.

On Tuesday night, the board was able to spare two major areas that were slated for cuts: librarians and school psychologists. Initially, the board looked at replacing teacher-certified librarians with technicians, which would have saved $108,000, and terminating five of the district’s 18 psychologist positions, which would have saved $425,000.

Instead, the board opted to leave the librarians alone, and eliminate only two of the school psychologist positions – for now. (Cutting two psychologist jobs saved $170,000.) However, some or all of the spared librarian and psychologist positions still could be cut in the coming months if the teachers union and district administration ultimately decide to cut less than $320,000 from San Marcos.

The board also decided to spare the program that keeps ninth-grade English classes small. (Schools often try to keep ninth-grade class sizes small because it helps freshmen make the transition into a new high school setting.)

In at least one instance, however, the trustees disagreed on what it was they actually were cutting. The board voted 4-1 to save nearly $47,000 by staffing “all junior high schools at parity.” School board member Bob Noel voted no, said he believed the proposal meant cutting from La Cumbre Junior High to a back-to-the-basics curriculum known as “Core Knowledge,” which in Santa Barbara has found unique success among low-income students, many of whom do not speak fluent English.

“This is one of the most successful programs we’ve seen for disadvantaged minority students,” Noel said.

Board members Nancy Harter and Kate Parker said they didn’t think the cut would dismantle the program. Superintendent Brian Sarvis said he agreed, but when pressed by Noel for a guarantee, he couldn’t oblige.

Many of the cuts — at least $2 million’s worth — were noncontroversial, as they dealt with arcane issues such as retiree health benefits, insurance matters, workers compensation and retirement incentives.

Other cuts included:

• Reducing the hours of health assistants at elementary schools. ($40,715)

• Reducing the number of instructional assistants, especially in special education. ($433,874)

• Replacing four site-based resource-program specialists with clerks. ($298,530

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at