Salem-Keizer offers 13.5% raise, $5,000 retention bonus to classified workers

School custodians, bus drivers and classroom assistants would receive a $5,000 retention bonus and 13.5% raise over three years under a new offer from Salem-Keizer School District management.

The district’s offer, announced Tuesday, is intended to bring to a close nearly a year of bargaining with the Association of Salem-Keizer Education Support Professionals, which represents about 2,800 classified employees.

It’s a $45 million package over three years, Superintendent Andrea Castañeda said, which comes as the district faces substantial budget cuts for the coming school year. “We just could not run our schools without our classified staff. They are the heart of so much of what we do,” Castañeda said during a Tuesday news conference.

She said the package is the most the district can spend on an offer.

An eventual contract with the union, she said, will be “less than our staff deserve and more than our school system can afford. And this is because Oregon’s funding formula is starting to collapse from the weight of the needs that our schools are expected to cover in the gap between what our state actually provides.”

Castañeda has previously said the district will need to cut hundreds more jobs to balance its budget for the 2024-25 school year. She announced an initial round of cuts in December which included overhead expenses, some district administrators and a significant share of school nurses.

She joins school district leaders across Oregon in calling for the state to revisit how it funds K-12 education in light of the growing number of social services and mental health support modern schools are expected to provide. Gov. Tina Kotek has said she’ll take up the issue during the 2025 legislative session.

The offer comes after a 14-hour mediation session Monday, which both sides described as positive. Another session is tentatively scheduled for early February.

Union leaders said Tuesday they were encouraged with the district’s movement.

“We’re hopeful this is something our members will be happy with,” said Jeff Jabin, the ASKESP vice president and chair of the bargaining team. Jabin has been a district custodian for 20 years.

Edie Buchanan, the union’s president, said the retention bonus was “historic” and money that members could use. She added that the district’s tone during mediation has improved since Castañeda became more directly involved in conversations with the union.

Buchanan said the largest outstanding issues are around workplace safety, staff training and workload. 

Both teachers and classified workers have repeatedly raised the issue of students assaulting staff as a key issue in bargaining. A state Occupational Safety and Health Administration report last fall found district schools have a much higher employee injury rate than state and national averages.

Castañeda said those issues are still being bargained, but the district has put forward a proposal “that makes significant commitments to more significant training to staff based on the roles they serve.”

The district offer says all school district employees assigned to work with students who have special needs would have access to the student’s behavior plan, individualized education plan and other documents detailing the student’s support needs.

It also calls for a school team to meet and consider adjustments when a student’s behavior is jeopardizing safety of staff and other students.

Union leaders said they’re hopeful they can settle the contract in mediation without a strike. The union has not asked employees to authorize a strike.

“Where we’re at today is largely due to the support of our members and our bargaining team,” Buchanan said.

What the district is offering

View the full proposal here.

  • A 6% cost of living raise in the first year, 4% in second year and 3.5% in third year.
  • A one-time $5,000 retention bonus paid to classified employees after the contract is signed. Employees working half-time or more are eligible for the full amount, and employees working fewer hours would receive $2,500. The money will be paid out of the district’s one-time federal Covid relief funding, which must be spent this year.
  • An additional 4% in pay for bilingual classified employees who pass a district language assessment showing proficiency, if they use their second language on the job.
  • An additional 4% in pay for employees who have to work on days when school is canceled due to weather, like custodians and maintenance workers called into clean up schools after pipes broke during the January ice storm.
  • A $165 increase to the monthly amount the district covers toward employee insurance premiums over the contract, with a monthly contribution reaching $1,575 per employee during the 2025-26 school year.

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.