Salem-Keizer’s latest round of cuts includes hundreds of educators

By Natalie Pate (OPB)
April 12, 2024 12:56 a.m. Updated: April 12, 2024 3:37 p.m.

The newest proposal includes $40 million in reductions. Combined with cuts announced in December, it’s the biggest reduction Salem-Keizer has seen in over a decade.

Salem-Keizer Public Schools' logo is on two doors of a building. It reads: Learning for a lifetime. Salem-Keizer Public Schools. Student services. Monday through Friday. 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

FILE: The Salem-Keizer Public Schools logo photographed outside the district's Student Support Services Center on Dec. 7, 2023, in Salem, Ore.

Natalie Pate / OPB

Hundreds of Salem-Keizer Public Schools employees will likely lose their jobs soon.


Salem-Keizer officials announced Thursday their latest round of proposed cuts for next year. These focused much more than previous cuts on student-facing roles in local schools.

The proposal outlines about $40 million in reductions, cutting roughly 400 positions or about 7% of the total workforce in Oregon’s second-largest district. This includes about 230 licensed employees, such as teachers.

This is just the latest hit. The $40 million is in addition to the proposed $31 million in primarily district-level reductions announced in December.

The latest announcement of cost-cutting comes just as Salem-Keizer administrators and teachers have given final approval to a new contract that will increase costs in the form of better pay and benefits for educators — even as administrators pursue cuts that will cost some teachers their jobs. It’s a similar dynamic as Portland Public Schools is experiencing, in which the contract approved late last year is adding costs and arguably deepening cuts to school staff.

At more than $70 million cuts, this is the largest reduction in Salem-Keizer in over a decade. Superintendent Andrea Castañeda said it’s on par with cuts made during the Great Recession of the late 2000s.

Though the cuts are dispersed across a large system — with Salem-Keizer serving more than 40,000 students across 65 schools — Castañeda described this as “an incredibly intimate and painful reduction.”

“[G]rad coaches, licensed teachers, instructional assistants — those are valued, trusted adults in young people’s lives,” she said. “Every single one of the 400-ish people who we might lose, or positions we might lose through this process, serve kids. And our kids need that support. There’s no way to go through this and not experience loss.”

About 100 of the proposed cuts are currently vacant positions. Castañeda said that should help soften the blow. Still, she estimated about 800 positions will be shifted around as a result of the cuts, meaning some 1,200 people may change or lose their jobs in a school system with 5,800 staff.

“For a system of our size, this is a really important moment because we’re not just talking about the loss of colleagues,” she said. “We’re talking about an incredible amount of churn and transition before it settles.”

District officials have been sounding the alarm on financial shortfalls since last summer. Castañeda has pointed to limited state funding, expiring federal COVID dollars, rising costs and declining enrollment as the main reasons for the shortfall. In other words, they can’t keep paying for everything they need with the money they currently have coming in.

Districts across the region and country are facing similar challenges.

“Throughout Oregon, school districts are starting to falter financially. This is far more than a blip. This is now a complete trend,” Castañeda said, listing Portland, Ashland, Bend-La Pine, Silverton and Gervais as districts facing substantial financial constraints and cuts. “There are 197 school districts. There’s a lot more to go.”

Castañeda said the district spent the last eight months trying to prepare the community and schools for reductions of this scope. They received more than 6,000 comments in-person and online about what to prioritize.


As a result, she said, the recommended cuts protect music, dual-language programs, career and technical education, elementary class size, safety, special education, mental and behavioral health services and advanced high school programs.

That doesn’t mean they won’t feel any of the effects. For example, an admin who helps support multiple programs may no longer be there. But no cuts are being made to those programs directly.

“Almost 90% of our general fund is spent on people, and almost all of them are in schools,” Castañeda told reporters. “So, there’s no way to make a cut this large and not touch the most precious part of our organization, which is our classrooms.

“Our only option is to do it responsibly.”

Thursday’s announcement comes the same week the teachers union and district ratified their latest bargaining contract after narrowly avoiding a strike.

FILE: Extra signs sit to the side of a Salem-Keizer Education Association rally at the district's administrative offices in Northeast Salem on Dec. 19, 2023.

FILE: Extra signs sit to the side of a Salem-Keizer Education Association rally at the district's administrative offices in Northeast Salem on Dec. 19, 2023.

Natalie Pate / OPB

The Salem Keizer Education Association contract will cost about $42.5 million in increases over the next two years. This, in part, pays for a 9.75% increase in compensation, one-time bonus payments and other employee benefits, such as larger health insurance contributions. Expiring federal relief dollars will foot the bill for some of this.

SKEA President Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg said the district has been spending “more than our budget should have allowed” before and after the pandemic, largely at the district level, even as student enrollment declined.

While the union doesn’t agree with many of the choices the district is making with these reductions, Scialo-Lakeberg said they understand that reductions are needed. Still, she argued the cuts show the district’s priorities.

“We are disappointed by our district leaders not prioritizing student-facing positions,” Scialo-Lakeberg said. “We believe the choices will harm our schools and ultimately our students.”

When asked Thursday how bargaining affected these cuts, Castañeda was adamant that the contract was not to blame for Salem-Keizer’s current financial situation.

“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.”

Salem-Keizer leaders are encouraging staff and community members to submit public testimony and participate in upcoming board meetings on Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday, administrators will ask the board to authorize the district to begin the reduction in force.

If the board approves that action, the district would be able to announce layoffs and begin the bumping process that shifts employees around to different positions.

The district plans to cancel May 17 classes for students. That time will, instead, be used to get information out to staff.

Castañeda said that on that day, people who are losing their positions or being moved to a different school, role or department will find out. She described it as a kind of “closure point” for “this extremely painful and technically complex process.”

“These cuts are hard, but they are necessary to safeguard Salem-Keizer’s financial health in the coming years,” Castañeda said. “We cannot ignore, we cannot defer, we cannot minimize these financial challenges. We can only rise to the moment by taking action now.

“We will address the situation in one painful year,” she continued. “And then, we are focusing on recovery.”