Budget woes loom for SKPS in 2024-25 school year

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Of the Keizertimes

As the 2023-24 school year approaches, Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) is staring down a critical issue for the 2024-25 year.

At Tuesday’s School Board work session, Superintendent Andrea Castañeda announced that the district is projecting a “significant gap” between revenue and expenses for the 2024-25 school year.

Castañeda addressed the public with a video message to share the information about the budget.

“The way we respond to this moment is what’s going to distinguish Salem-Keizer from the thousands of other districts that are going through this exact same dilemma,” Castañeda said.

SKPS is the second-largest district in the state, and the most diverse. And while neighboring districts like Portland and Beaverton are facing similar funding issues, both districts have local levies that provide significant revenue.

Even with being the second-largest, SKPS enrollment numbers have dropped in the last three years by 2,300 students, and they continue to enroll around 400 fewer each year than prior to the 2019-20 school year.

In that same timeframe, payroll has gone up.

The district has added 455 full-time equivalent staff, and in those three years  staff pay has increased by an average of 14%. Currently, 87% of the budget goes towards staffing.

“People are our superpower,” Castañeda said. “They’re what make us spectacular.”

But compounding the increased payroll and drop in enrollment is another key loss of funds. The 2023-24 school year is the final year where schools will receive Federal COVID relief money. That money had been used in the last few years to offset the growing difference between revenue and expenses.

Throughout it all, Castañeda promised transparency and engagement with the public regarding the budget, insisting everyone has a voice in the conversation.

“The gap is not something that should frighten us,” Castañeda said. “This should bring us together and look at these trade-offs together.”

By the end of the fall or winter, Castañeda expects the collective bargaining with the unions to be over, and allow them more clarity on the coming budget. As of now, there is still a difference in the cost of living adjustment, and those numbers are needed before any sort of budget can be nailed down.

However, even with all this looming, Castañeda and the district are focused on the school year set to begin in less than two weeks.

“The most important thing right now is not the ‘24-25 budget, it’s the ‘23-24 school year,” Castañeda said.