District proposes 3.5% teacher raise as Salem-Keizer teacher union seeks 15%

Salem-Keizer School District leaders have proposed a 3.5% pay raise for the district’s 2,000 teachers as bargaining with the teacher union enters its sixth month.

The proposal would give licensed employees a 3.5% raise this year and next year and would cost $20 million over two years. That’s an increase from an initial proposed raise of 2.5% annually, but falls far short of the Salem-Keizer Education Association’s ask for a 15% raise next year.

Negotiations come as the district faces a projected budget shortfall expected to be tens of millions of dollars for 2024, and as teachers in nearby school districts are settling contracts with larger raises.

The size of educator raises remains the largest unknown factor in the district’s forthcoming budgeting. Superintendent Andrea Castañeda said a quick contract resolution is important so district leaders can begin planning cuts for next year.

“You will hear that this is about what we value. My message for you is that this is about what we have,” she said in a speech Monday at the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce’s forum speaker lunch.

It’s the first movement on pay either side has made since exchanging initial proposals in April.

“We know that competitive wages and a respectful and sustaining work environment are at the center of recruitment, hiring, and most importantly, staff retention,” Castañeda said in a statement released with the district proposal. “With this proposed increase, our teachers will earn the same or more than 98% of teachers working in similar Oregon districts. We hope our significant financial offer will quickly move bargaining rapidly forward toward a fair, respectful, and financially responsible new contract.”

Union leaders say the increased cost of living adjustment offer still isn’t close to enough, and district proposals fail to address concerns about other aspects of work in schools, including student behavior, adequate time to prepare for classes and class size.

“We think 3.5% is too low. Given inflation right now it’s too low,” said Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg, president of the Salem-Keizer Education Association. “But if the district were to be addressing all of these other important things, that would take some of the weight off the (cost of living adjustment).”

Harada said the district believes concerns over work conditions are addressed in the current contract and that additional issues are best addressed outside of bargaining. 

Scialo-Lakeberg said the district has prioritized jobs and raises for administrators rather than investing in people who work directly with students.

District administrators on average received a 7.85% pay increase last year, district spokesman Aaron Harada said, because they “lagged far behind our regional market.” Teachers and other licensed employees received 4.5%.

Many top district administrators and members of the superintendent’s cabinet, who hold the highest-paid positions in the district, received raises close to 10% or more last year, Scialo-Lakeberg said, based on data the union got from the district.

Those positions, which include directors of high schools, middle schools and elementary schools, are paid about $165,000 annually according to a salary schedule. The district’s two assistant superintendents are paid $191,084, according to contracts approved in the spring.

A starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree is paid $45,478, according to the district salary schedule, while a teacher with 10 years of experience and a master’s degree would be paid $69,130, according to the current salary schedule.

“We don’t need resources to be first spent at the district level and then trickle down to schools,” Scialo-Lakeberg said. “We’re asking our district to reevaluate how they’re spending money.”

Woodburn teachers in April settled a contract with a 7.75% pay raise for the 2022-23 school year, and 5% for the two years after.

In southwest Washington, Camas teachers settled a contract Sept. 7 following a week-long strike with a 6.4% raise. Evergreen teachers settled for a 6.6% raise Sept. 10 after a strike.

Portland teachers remain in tense negotiations with Portland Public Schools and have said they may strike. The district has offered teachers a 4% annual raise.

“If we look at other labor contracts, and even just licensed educator contracts, they’re settling significantly above what we budgeted,” Castañeda said during her Monday speech.

Each 1% raise for licensed educators, which includes teachers, counselors, occupational therapists and other people with professional licenses, would cost the district $2.8 million, Harada said.

The school district’s budget for the current year assumed a 2.5% raise for educators. With that raise and with no cuts, the school district’s 2024 budget will see about a $50 million gap in the general fund, which pays for most district operations.

The union and district are holding opening bargaining, which means anyone can attend and watch in person. The next session is set for Monday, Sept. 18 at 5 p.m. at the Salem-Keizer Education Association office, 2540 Coral Ave N.E.

Correction: This article originally misstated the timeframe for the cost associated with proposed teacher raises. The district’s proposal would cost $20 million over two years, not one year. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

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.