School district plans furloughs to meet expected budget cuts

SKPS School district Salem-Keizer

With a 6-1 vote, the Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) Board of Directors approved a memorandum of understanding with the Salem-Keizer Education Association that outlines furlough days for educators and some school administrators.

The decision is expected to affect more than 4,000 local school employees and SKPS is estimating they will save $8 million by the end of July.

Starting on Friday, May 22, educators and teacher aides will be taking one unpaid furlough day per week until mid-June. A number of administrators, including Superintendent Christy Perry, are scheduled to have their furloughs last until the end of July.

Days will be staggered to maintain the services being offered by the district through the end of the school year, such as child care and meal distribution — those workers will take their furlough days on Monday. 

“Every employee has to furlough 20 percent,” Perry said. 

It’s the beginning of a likely number of cuts coming to the district budget amid the COVID-19 pandemic. During a district budget meeting last week, Perry shared that she is expecting the district to be $48 million short of what was expected due to cuts in the state school fund.

Although the motion nearly passed unanimously — with the only opposing vote coming from Paul Kyllo — there were board members who were less than thrilled about the decision.

“My personal opinion is that it’s the wrong way to go. It’s going to have a horrible impact on the community and what we’re doing,” Kathy Goss said. “But I really don’t have much choice but for the good of the order to vote along with the majority.”

Danielle Bethell approached the vote with some skepticism. 

“It’s a tool in a toolbox that we are being asked to use as school board members, making sure our kids receive the best education in the long term. The only reason I’ll will be supporting it is because I believe in the efforts our teachers are doing and I know that our kids are going to need every ounce of attention from every body we can fit in a building starting in September,” Bethell said. “I believe that voting yes to support this furlough to save money now going into the future is a critical tool and really the only tool we have available to us.”

Fortunately for SKPS employees, the district is accessing a state program called the CARES Act, which will protect as many instructional days and staff positions as possible for next school year, while providing current benefits for employees.

Under the CARES Act, district staff would get $600 per week in addition to unemployment — meaning that many staff members, by being furloughed, will make more than their yearly salary. 

The additional money won’t come from the district, which means that this will be a money-saving strategy for SKPS. The plan also doesn’t effect employee health insurance or retirement contributions. 

Towards the end of the meeting, Jesse Lippold was vocal about why he thought this was the right decision for the district, even though it may have some negative impacts down the road. 

“To say that there’s no repercussions would be a lie and I think to say that there would be other alternatives also wouldn’t be true. There are definitely going to be long-term impacts on this,” Lippold said. “We’re going to have to end up paying for this over time as taxpayers. All of us are. For me personally, I’m willing to take on that burden … I think it’s really important for teachers and students have stability for next year.”