Classroom aides to see 8% raise in Salem

Classroom aides, custodians and bus drivers in the Salem-Keizer School District will see an 8% raise for the 2022-23 school year under an agreement reached with the district’s classified employee union.

Teachers and other licensed workers like speech therapists will see a smaller raise of 4.5% under a similar agreement with the Salem-Keizer Education Association. Those still working for the district on Feb. 28, 2023 will also receive a $750 retention bonus, to be paid next March.

The raises will cost the district about $14 million this year, district spokesman Aaron Harada said.

Members of both employee unions, which collectively represent thousands of educators and employees in local schools, had been set to receive a 3% cost of living increase under existing contracts for the upcoming school year.

Instead, employees represented by the Association of Salem-Keizer Education Support Professionals will be moved up one pay range on the district’s pay scale for their position, equivalent to a 5% raise, and still receive a 3% cost-of-living increase.

“What we accomplished in this (memorandum of understanding) is unprecedented! While we still have much work ahead, please KNOW that “WE” have an incredible leadership team (THANK YOU) that patiently persisted in our conversations with SKSD to achieve a better wage for us all,” wrote Edie Buchanan, ASKESP president, in a Facebook post announcing the agreement, which was signed Aug. 8.

Union leaders said they’ve been advocating for increased compensation all year as educators have faced a challenging year compounded by staffing shortages, behavioral problems from students and the difficulties of returning to in-person school after over a year of online classes.

Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg, president of the Salem-Keizer Education Association, said the union was happy to see the increases, both for their own members and the larger increases for classified employees.

She said the teacher union has been successful in recent years in negotiating pay increases, but those increases haven’t been shared by classified employees, making it difficult to fill positions and retain employees. 

Current district postings for classroom aides list pay between $16.45 and $21.04 per hour. Oregon’s minimum wage is currently $13.50 per hour, and Scialo-Lakeberg said fast food or retail employers are often paying more than the district.

“Why would (they) continue to work in schools with kids that bite and hit and pee on them when (they) can go work at Target for $21 an hour?” she said. “They need more incentives and our members need them to be working.”

The additional money was offered by district leaders in hopes of improving employee retention, Harada said. He said the existing cost of living increases in the contracts were negotiated before skyrocketing inflation.

“We sought to better align our compensation structures with fair market wages, support employee recruitment, and demonstrate to our employees that we understand the value and critical nature of their work. This change helps us continue those efforts and will ultimately help our employees continue to serve students while still meeting their own personal and family financial obligations,” Harada said in an email.

Contact 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.