Education

Salem-Keizer schools announce $30M in cuts — with more to come

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Nov. 30, 2023 12:39 a.m.

Superintendent Andrea Castañeda says the budget pains are the result of an outdated formula for school funding, something Gov. Tina Kotek wants to address.

Salem-Keizer schools will slash its administrative budget by $30 million in coming days, enacting salary freezes and layoffs as the district grapples with a funding shortfall it warns will likely result in more grave impacts in the spring.

Superintendent Andrea Castañeda announced Wednesday that the cuts were necessary as the district struggles with state funding that she said is utterly out of step with the true costs of running a school district.

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Related: Salem-Keizer school district announces upcoming layoffs, budget cuts

The announcement from the state’s second largest school district is just the latest fallout, as districts around Oregon say they don’t have enough money to pay for the services they’re required to provide. A three-week teachers strike in Portland that ended Monday was exacerbated by the district’s inability to meet educators’ demand for increased pay and other changes.

Related: Teachers reach tentative deal with Portland Public Schools

“The assumptions that were part of this biennium’s funding are not really holding up in the current labor market,” Castañeda said in a meeting with reporters. “That is true for Portland. It is true for Salem-Keizer. It will be true for the 70 districts that are bargaining this year.”

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FILE: Students work in a math class at McKay High School in Salem, Ore., part of the Salem-Keizer school district, on Sept. 13, 2023.

FILE: Students work in a math class at McKay High School in Salem, Ore., part of the Salem-Keizer school district, on Sept. 13, 2023.

Natalie Pate / OPB

Castañeda said Salem-Keizer will be unveiling a first round of cuts in three distinct “tranches” between Wednesday and early next week. She would not go into detail about what specifically they would entail, but said they were designed “to be felt very little or not at all” by students and staff. In a public video message, she said reducing conference travel and suspending purchases of new vehicles, for example, are among the cuts. Layoffs are coming, along with pay freezes for some of the district’s top administrators, and Castañeda said she will give away $30,000 of her own salary to help pay for other programs.

Even more pronounced cuts are likely coming. Castañeda says the district is preparing a second round of cuts in late winter or early spring that will impact services within the district’s schools. She said the amount of the reduction currently appears to be $40 million, but said that could change as the district’s budget picture becomes clearer and ongoing negotiations with the district’s teachers’ union continue.

Related: Portland teachers ratify contract with nearly 95% approval, school board passes unanimously

Lawmakers crowed this year when they allocated a record $10.2 billion for K-12 schools around the state — roughly in line with what administrators from school districts across the state said was necessary to maintain current services.

Instead, budget writers have been met with a persistent message from districts and teachers unions that the funding is inadequate.

Gov. Tina Kotek announced Tuesday that she would begin a process of rethinking the state’s formula for school funding in time for lawmakers to pass a new two-year budget in 2025.

Related: Portland school strike is over, but the governor says school funding talks must continue

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