Salem-Keizer teachers, district reach deal averting strike

Teachers in the Salem-Keizer School District would get a 6.25% raise this year, a $6,000 retention bonus and more pay for bilingual and special education employees under a tentative two year contract agreement reached early Tuesday morning.

The deal means teachers will not go on strike, despite voting overwhelmingly to authorize a strike last week for the first time in district history.

The agreement between the district and the Salem-Keizer Education Association covers about 2,600 teachers, counselors and other licensed educators working in local schools. 

It will cost the school district $42.5 million over two years, according to a district statement. That includes a 3.5% pay increase during the second year of the contract.

That’s up from a $37 million offer district leaders made in January. At the time, Superintendent Andrea Castañeda said it was the most the district could afford to spend on a new contract.

The difference comes from increasing the one-time retention bonus paid to full-time teachers from $5,000 to $6,000, she said Tuesday. That expense is being paid out of federal Covid relief money which expires this year, which meant the district could afford it without increasing future costs, she said.

“It doesn’t impact our ongoing sustained costs as a district,” Castañeda said.

The agreement ends almost a year of tense negotiations as union leaders pushed for action on issues including class size and safety from disruptive students, while district leaders highlighted a significant budget deficit facing the district.

Both sides announced the tentative agreement around 1:15 a.m. Tuesday.

“When educators began this bargain back (in) April of 2023 we knew our contract needed to be revamped from the bottom up, and that’s what tonight’s tentative agreement represents – a new start for students and educators in Salem,” said SKEA President Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg in a statement. “There is always more to do to build the schools our students deserve, but these new investments in school safety, educator workload and scheduling, and this new start on addressing class size, mark a paradigm shift in how our public schools will operate on a day-to-day basis.” 

“We are pleased to reach a fair and respectful contract that recognizes the quality and commitment of our educators,” Castañeda said in a statement. “In reaching this agreement, we demonstrate that shared interests and a determination to stay at the table can lead to fair and responsible contracts, overcoming differences that arise even in dire economic circumstances.”

The contract needs to be ratified by union members and approved by the school board before becoming final.

The union said it would share details on the contract with members in town halls over the coming weeks and then seek ratification. Union leaders did not have a timeline for a ratification vote.

As of Tuesday morning, neither side had posted a complete version of the tentative agreement, but the district statement listed highlights including:

  • A $100 monthly increase in the district’s contribution toward employee health insurance costs next year, up to $1,500 per month
  • A $600,000 annual district budget to address overcrowded elementary school classrooms. The money could be used to hire additional employees, give teachers more prep time or for overage pay
  • New teacher leader roles at schools that come with a $2,500 annual payment
  • An additional 60 minutes of weekly preparation time for elementary school teachers

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

SUPPORT OUR WORK – We depend on subscribers for resources to report on Salem with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

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.