Salem-Keizer School District leaders want to add more teachers to the district’s programs serving non-native English speakers and shift more educators to address students’ behavioral problems, according to a proposed budget for the 2022-23 school year.

The $1.4 billion draft budget, published Tuesday evening, largely maintains current district services and staffing despite a projected decline in student enrollment.

The number of students enrolled in public schools statewide and in Salem has declined substantially since the pandemic began as more families elected to homeschool their children or enroll them in private schools.

During the 2019-20 school year, Salem-Keizer had 41,570 students enrolled. So far this year, average enrollment is around 39,540 students and is expected to lose 419 students next year, according to the draft budget.

Typically, that would mean a decrease in state funds for local schools, which are allocated based on the total number of students enrolled and account for about one-third of Salem-Keizer’s budget.

But Superintendent Christy Perry said in an interview with Salem Reporter that state funds per student are increasing because every school district in Oregon is seeing similar declines. That means Salem-Keizer doesn’t need to cut staff.

The district is shifting 12 full-time teacher positions from elementary to high school to account for declining elementary school enrollment.

The district also expects to carry over more money than typical from this year’s budget into 2022-23, Perry said, largely because of budgeted staff positions that have gone unfilled as local schools have struggled to hire staff.

The budget calls for $95 million to carry over into next year, up from $70 million in the previous budget.

Perry said filling new positions included for the 2022-23 school year will be a challenge, particularly teacher jobs requiring specialized skills like English language instruction or licensed practical nurses.

“I’m worried about that, which is one of the reasons we tried to be really selective about positions,” she said.

Perry is presenting the budget Tuesday evening to the district’s budget committee starting at 6 p.m. The committee includes all seven elected school board directors, plus seven appointed community volunteers who serve three-year terms.

Typically, the committee meets several times before voting on the budget, which then goes to the full school board for a public hearing and adoption.

The proposed budget in total includes about 2,500 teachers and other licensed educators in the district’s general fund, increasing by 28 full-time positions. It also includes 2,300 classified employees, who include instructional aides, bus drivers and other support positions. That’s an increase of about 83 full-time positions.

Here’s a breakdown of major changes and spending.

English language teaching

The district has seen a sharp increase in the number of students who have recently arrived in the U.S. in part due to an influx of Afghan refugees. So far this school year, about 1,800 new students have arrived in the U.S., up more than 500 from the previous school year, according to the draft budget.

To help educate those students and teach them English, the budget includes nine and a half full-time English language development teachers, five additional English teachers and six teachers for the district’s Newcomer Center, where recently arrived immigrants and refugees are generally enrolled. Nine more instructional assistants are also included.

School buses parked in the Salem-Keizer School District lot on Hawthorne Avenue in 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Transportation

The district will finish construction on a new transportation facility on Gaffin Road during the upcoming school year. It’s part of a $60 million plan to replace aging buses and expand transportation operations which the school board approved in 2020.

The budget includes $14 million for building the facility and adds 21 full-time positions for bus dispatchers, trainers, mechanics and other employees to keep district buses running.

Seventy percent of district transportation costs are reimbursed by the state.

Behavior challenges

With elementary schools seeing declining enrollment, the budget calls for shifting 21 current teacher positions to behavioral specialists.

A behavior specialist is a licensed teacher who typically oversees school efforts to teach social and emotional skills in classrooms and works individually with students who repeatedly struggle with behavior.

With that addition, Perry said every district elementary school will have its own full-time behavior specialist. Currently, it’s common for schools to either have a half-time specialist, or have a full-time experienced teacher who serves as both a behavior specialist and a mentor for other teachers.

As students acting out and struggling to return to normal school has been a growing challenge, Perry said teachers are increasingly struggling to fill both roles.

“The behavior management time is taking up all the instructional mentor time,” she said.

The budget will also add two school counselors and a school psychologist to district middle schools.

A security guard patrols the hallway at Waldo Middle School on Friday, April 15, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Security

District leaders this year added nine full-time security guards to middle and high schools in response to an increase in fights, assaults and students acting out.

The additions come after Perry decided last spring to remove all police officers from district schools following a sustained push by local activists.

The new budget preserves those additions and includes two additional security guards for 2022-23.

Curriculum

The budget calls for $10 million to be allocated toward new curriculum and materials. The money would be transferred from the district’s general fund to an asset replacement fund, allowing it to be spent in future years.

Perry said specific purchases remain to be decided, but there are multiple areas where the district currently lacks a common set of textbooks or materials that can be used by all students,

Those include math and science in middle and high schools, elementary school health curriculum and high-quality dual language materials.

“We have a long list,” she said.

Playgrounds, equipment and more

The budget establishes a new fund that’s intended to help schools pay for items like choir robes, musical instruments, athletic equipment or even playgrounds which is often covered by parent fundraising.

A total of $2 million is earmarked for an “equity-based asset replacement fund” which is intended to pay for such improvements at schools where families are lower-income and parents typically can’t afford to contribute.

“We're just seeing that inequity among schools that don't have parent clubs that can fundraise in the same way,” Perry said.

Robert Silva, the district’s chief operating officer, said that money will be allocated following a districtwide look at which schools need things like playgrounds or other assets.

Another $2 million is being set aside into a replacement fund for district Chromebooks that were used during online school so that they can be replaced at the end of their expected four- or five-year lifespan.

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

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