UPDATED: Salem-Keizer board talks budget woes, literacy at November meeting

Salem-Keizer School Board directors unanimously approved proclamations for Native American Heritage Month and recognizing education support professionals, but spent the bulk of a Tuesday meeting discussion the district’s literacy strategy and budget woes.

School board directors heard an update from Deputy Superintendent Olga Cobb on the district’s literacy strategy.

Compared with last fall, the share of district second graders progressing as expected on key reading benchmarks has improved, Cobb said. Data from classroom tests showed 45% of second graders this fall on track reading passages fluently in English, compared with 39% last fall.

Cobb said the district is in the process of shifting to a new in-class reading assessment she expects will yield more useful data. District leaders are also developing a plan to engage parents by giving them ways to help their kids learn to read at home.

“When kids like to read, when they see people they love reading to them, then they’re hooked,” Cobb said.

Superintendent Andrea Castañeda delivered a budget update, saying that despite savings this year through not filling some vacant positions, the district will need to lay off hundreds of people to balance its budget for 2024.

Read more about the budget below.

Original story below:

The Salem-Keizer School Board will meet Tuesday afternoon in a 90-minute closed-door session to discuss labor negotiations as the district heads to mediation after months of bargaining with both of its employee unions.

Under Oregon law, school boards may hold meetings closed to the public to discuss certain topics, including labor negotiations. No decisions may be made during executive sessions.

The board will then begin a public meeting at 6 p.m., where board members will review proposed changes to the Oregon School Boards Association bylaws and receive a financial update from district leaders.

READ IT: Agenda

To participate: The public meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the Student Services Support Center, 2575 Commercial Street S.E. Members of the public may attend, though seating capacity is limited to about 70 people.

Members of the public can sign up for in-person or virtual public comment before the meeting starts until 3 p.m. Monday using the link here.

The meeting will be streamed on CC:Media, channel 21, and on YouTube at the links below.



The board agenda also includes a quarterly financial report from Robert Silva, the district’s chief operating officer, which is showing some financial bright spots despite a looming budget deficit. The district began the fiscal year with a higher-than-budgeted beginning fund balance of $86.6 million, about $9.6 million higher than budgeted primarily due to grants, the report said.

Legislators approved a $10.2 billion Oregon’s state school fund after the district budget assumed a $9.9 billion fund. As a result, Salem-Keizer will receive about $9 million more this year, Silva’s report said. That money is already factored into district financial projections, which are showing a $38 million minimum deficit in the district general fund for 2024-25, in large part due to the expiration of federal Covid relief funding.

District leaders are currently forecasting general fund expenses for this school year to come in about $18 million under budget. About $12.5 million of that total is projected savings to due staff vacancies, assuming positions remain vacant. Castañeda at the start of the school year said the district would continue to hire school-based vacancies, but would consider not rehiring positions when employees in the central district office leave as a cost-cutting measure.

The board will also consider approving proclamations honoring Native American Heritage Month and recognizing education support professionals.

Board members will then discuss, but not vote on, a fall literacy report and two resolutions amending the bylaws for the Oregon School Boards Association. The changes would create an Oregon Rural School Board Members Caucus and designate a representative of the caucus as a voting member of the OSBA board and legislative policy committee.

The school board will vote on the changes at a later meeting.

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.