Salem schools will lose about 300 educators under budget cutting plan

About 300 educators and other school district employees would lose their jobs next school year under a proposal to cut $71 million in Salem-Keizer School District spending.

Superintendent Andrea Castañeda will seek school board approval Tuesday, April 16, for a reduction in force, the legal term for a mass layoff. In total, the plan would cut 7% of the district’s workforce — the largest layoff since the Great Recession.

“We’ve worked hard to make these decisions in a way that is really responsible, really transparent and keeps a clear focus on the future,” she said during a Thursday news conference.

What’s being cut

Castañeda outlined expected layoffs in broad terms Thursday without detailing specific positions affected. She plans to eliminate about 400 full-time jobs, about 100 of which are currently vacant. 

The jobs cut include 231 teachers, some of whom work in jobs that oversee other teachers or manage district programs. They also include 114 classified workers: classroom aides who work directly in schools, school health assistants, some graduation coaches, and employees who work for district departments.

Fifteen administrator jobs will also be cut, 13% of all district administrators. Some of those cuts were announced in December.

Details on what jobs are to be eliminated — and how that will impact students in the classroom — won’t be finalized until May.

That’s in part because district contracts allow more experienced employees whose jobs are eliminated to “bump” a more junior employee from their job. The result, Castañeda said, is that the layoffs will trigger about 800 district employees switching jobs.

Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg, Salem-Keizer Education Association president, said that while cuts are necessary, the district is cutting too many classroom teachers at the expense of administrators, managers and district workers.

“We are disappointed by our District leaders not prioritizing student facing positions. We believe the choices will harm our schools and ultimately our students,” she said in a statement.

Sports, music, dual language, career programs won’t be cut

Programs including music, athletics, fine arts, dual language, career technical education, mental and behavioral health services and school safety are not on the chopping block, Castañeda said.

Those programs were clear priorities for the 6,000 students, families, employees and others in the community who gave feedback through fall sessions and a recent district survey. 

School libraries, which already saw substantial cuts during the Great Recession, won’t be cut further, she said. Advanced high school classes are also not being cut.

Special education is another area Castañeda said district leaders protected, with only a few positions cut, most of which are vacant.

Because of the scale of the layoffs, Castañeda said some impacts to those programs are unavoidable.

“There is no way to reduce 7% of your workforce and say that anything is entirely protected,” she said. Programs could see impact from school office workers or coordinators who help with multiple programs being cut, for example.

What comes next

The layoffs are the second half of a budget cutting plan school district leaders have been developing all school year. Castañeda announced $31 million in cuts to district overhead costs, supplies and some jobs in December.

The Salem-Keizer School Board will meet Monday, April 15, and Tuesday, April 16, from 6-7:30 p.m. in the boardroom at 2575 Commercial St. S.E. to hear public comment on the cuts. On Tuesday, the board will vote on authorizing the layoffs, which allows the district to begin notifying affected employees.

None of the cuts are final until the school board adopts a budget, which typically happens in June.

Before that, the district’s budget committee reviews the budget, questions the superintendent, hears public comment and votes on adopting it. The committee is all seven school board members plus seven other community volunteers.

Why the district has a budget deficit

Castañeda laid the blame for cuts on Oregon’s school funding formula, which she said has failed to keep up with rapidly rising costs or account for the multitude of services schools are now expected to provide. Those include mental health care for students.

School districts across Oregon are making substantial budget cuts as one-time federal Covid relief money expires this year. Salem-Keizer and other districts used that money to hire new employees to address a multitude of student challenges in the wake of the pandemic, as well as for one-time purchases like hand sanitizer and masks.

Gov. Tina Kotek has signaled school funding reform will be her priority during the 2025 legislative session.

The Salem-Keizer district recently settled new contracts with its teacher and classified worker union. The teacher contract will cost $42.5 over two years, and the classified contract $73 million over three years.

But Castañeda said those increases were necessary, and educators aren’t to blame for budget woes.

“We refuse to suggest that this painful reduction in force is a result of our staff being paid what they deserve,” she said. We’re going to need to work on this policy issue together and at the same time, make sure that we are standing proud and strong in the idea that Oregon schools matter. And Oregon’s educators and staff do need to be paid a fair wage.”

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.