Weigh in on where Salem schools should focus as budget cuts loom

Salem-Keizer School District leaders are preparing for deep budget cuts in the next school year, and they want your input on where to focus.

Superintendent Andrea Castañeda said district leaders need to cut a minimum of $38 million from the 2024-25 budget to address a projected budget deficit as federal Covid relief money runs out. She told the school board Oct. 10 that the district has a “a very difficult school year” coming.

The district, like many across the U.S., has seen student enrollment decline in the years since the Covid pandemic, while also adding hundreds more employees to address academic challenges, student mental health needs and behavioral concerns following a return to class.

“We will start with the district. It is the only place to start, it is the right place to start, it is the professional, ethical move and it is the way we take care of classrooms. We will not be able to get $38 million out of this budget,” Castañeda said at the Oct. 10 meeting. “We will have to do everything we can and the rest will have to come from schools. And there is no part of me that wants this to be true.”

School board members and district administrators are gathering community feedback over the next two weeks at a series of “community listening sessions” to be held at each of the district’s high schools.

Each session will have a presentation from Castañeda about the district’s budget, and from school board directors about the board’s results policy, which sets goals for the superintendent to focus on.

The policy, adopted in September, sets targets for improving the share of students who read at grade level by third grade, regular attendance, graduation rates and students’ self-reported sense of belonging in school.

“The goal is to listen to our families and community about the resources that are currently in place that are helping students make progress toward the priorities identified in the results policy. We also want to hear what is missing that may help students make that progress. Ultimately, all of this information will guide the district in preparing for next year’s budget,” said district spokesman Aaron Harada in an email.

Sessions will be held:

  • Monday, Oct. 23, 2023 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Sprague High School in the commons.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at West Salem High School in the commons.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at McKay High School in the new commons.
  • Monday, Oct. 30, 2023 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at McNary High School in the cafeteria.
  • Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at South Salem High School in the lower commons.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at North Salem High School in the new west commons.

Childcare, refreshments and Spanish translation will be provided at each event. District officials have asked people to register in advance online so they can prepare.

American Sign Language interpretation will be provided at all events except McKay High School. Chuukese interpretation will be available at the Sprague and South events, according to the registration form.

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.