Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry addresses a room full of educators at a meeting with Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Salem-Keizer educators are cheering an ambitious legislative package to reduce class size, hire more counselors in schools and help more classroom aides become teachers.

At a meeting Tuesday evening with state Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, teachers, counselors and classroom aides said the policy changes floated by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Student Success would help them teach more effectively and support students dealing with trauma and behavioral problems.

“Lowering class size would significantly impact my ability to develop stronger relationships with my students,” said Cortney Clendening, a first grade teacher at Clear Lake Elementary School.

She said she teaches between 27 and 32 students.

The task force has suggested limiting class size to 20 students in kindergarten and first grade, with that number increasing up to 29 in middle and high school classes.

The recommendation is the basis of a planned increase in state school spending that the Legislative Fiscal Office has estimated could cost up to $3 billion.

Gov. Kate Brown has proposed an additional $2 billion for the 2019-21 biennium.

Salem-Keizer Education Association president Mindy Merritt, left, speaks with Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon at a SKEA event discussing proposed education policy changes. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Alonso Leon told educators that proposed changes are a shift from politics as usual in Oregon. Frequently, education reforms have required the Oregon Department of Education to gather data or change programs without getting funding or oversight.

“We’re going to be looking at a potential budget to support some of these ideas which has never happened before in the history of our education system,” she said.

Members of the Salem-Keizer Education Association and Association of Salem Keizer Education Support Professionals cheered as Alonso Leon said classes in Oregon are too big and students need more therapists in school.

Many said their caseloads were too large to effectively support students.

Angie Greenwood, a program assistant for the district’s speech language pathologists, said most pathologists work with about 80 students.

Counselors, pathologists and other support staff don’t have substitutes, so if someone is sick, their work is spread other employees.

“Instead of feeling like we’re making a difference for students, I think many of us go home feeling ineffective and defeated,” Greenwood said.

School District Superintendent Christy Perry encouraged employees to share their stories with Alonso Leon and other legislators during the upcoming legislative session.

She said the willingness of legislators to approve funding along with policy change was unprecedented in the decades she’s worked in Oregon education.

“I did not think I would ever see this time in Oregon,” she said. “This moment doesn’t happen often.”

Reporter Rachel Alexander: (503) 575-1241 or rachel@salemreporter.com

A note from our editor: 

Thank you for reading another example of our local journalism. This kind of work takes paid professionals and we rely on subscribers to support this work. If you haven't yet signed on as a Salem Reporter subscriber, please ensure you get more of these kinds of stories with your subscription: Click HEREThank you. -- Les Zaitz, editor