As other Oregon districts face budget cuts, Salem-Keizer will add counseling and behavior staff

School board member Jesse Lippold, and other budget committee members look at documents during a meeting on May 7, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Salem-Keizer schools are hiring more high school counselors and elementary school behavioral support staff for the coming school year after receiving more state money than expected.

The district heads its new budget with $7 million more to spend.

Superintendent Christy Perry last week laid out to the district’s budget committee her plan for the additional money.

She proposed spending a little over $2 million to add one counselor to each of the district’s six high schools, and 18 classified staff to work in elementary schools on student behavior. Most district high schools now have four counselors.

Behavior staff are “working with our students with very complex needs,” Perry said. The district’s goal is to eventually have one such person at each of the district’s elementary schools, Perry said, which would require about five more employees.

Under the new plan, the district would also keep more translation and native language staff on the payroll for 12 months instead of the current nine- or 10-month contracts.

Those employees translate documents and provide interpretation for events in Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Marshallese, Chuukese and Swahili.

“We have a whole month without service and as we’re prepping for a new school year that’s become a really important increase,” Perry said. The additional time would also allow those workers to help with summer school.

Much of the extra money, $3 million, would be stored in the district’s contingency fund. That division was questioned by some school board and budget committee members.

Jim Green, a school board member and vice chair of the budget committee, said he’d like to see more hires to address immediate problems like student behavior, especially knowing the district will have more money available in 2020 because of the Student Success Act.

“We probably want to ramp up as opposed to wait for those funds,” Green said. “If we’ve got real needs with our kids, we want to address those needs.”

Perry had previously said additional high school counselors were her first priority if the district got more money through expanded state funding expected next year.

The Student Success Act, which would levy a business tax to raise $1 billion a year for public schools in Oregon, was signed Thursday by Gov. Kate Brown. Salem-Keizer would receive about $36 million according to projections from the Legislative Revenue Office.

The district’s total budget for next year is $1.19 billion.

With more counselors now covered, Perry said she’s looking at other options.

Other areas she and staff have suggested include career and technical education programs in middle school, mentors to help more black, Pacific Islander and Native American students graduate, extended school days or years, or reducing class size by hiring more teachers.

Perry said she’s planning public engagement around those funds with community leaders, parents, teachers and other groups beginning in August.

The district budget committee, which includes all seven school board members and seven community volunteers, is scheduled to meet and hear public testimony Monday, May 20, and Tuesday, May 21, at 6 p.m. at the district’s Support Services Center, 2575 Commercial Street SE.

Prior coverage:

Salem-Keizer will shift staff to transportation, special education under proposed $1.19 billion budget

Mental health counselors first priority if Salem-Keizer gets extra schools funding

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.