SKEA members wear red to spread awareness

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, McNary High School staff greeted the class of 2027 for their first day while standing in solidarity with the Salem Keizer Education Association. 

The first day of high school for freshmen was Sept. 5. Instead of representing classic McNary colors, staff that are members of the Salem Keizer Education Association (SKEA) filled the halls wearing red shirts in support of the recent bargaining sessions between SKEA and Salem–Keizer Public Schools (SKPS). 

Every two years SKEA and SKPS bargain for a new work contract for all licensed staff within the school district. The most recent contract expired July 1, and the new one has been being discussed since April 6. During these sessions, the two parties negotiate terms regarding payment/compensation, class sizes, work safety, health insurance, and work hours. This is the first time in SKEA history that the bargaining sessions are open, meaning that anyone can view the meetings and see what is discussed during them. 

“We want people to be aware of the issues, we want them to be involved,” said Maraline Ellis, Vice President of SKEA. 

SKEA has asked their members to wear their association’s red shirts on bargaining days in order to bring awareness. 

“There are no bigger believers in our public schools and the work that happens here than its teachers, and we wear red to represent our commitment to this profession and to the amazing kids and families in our community,” said Mackenzie DeLong, a McNary High School teacher. 

SKEA also represents more than teachers, during bargaining sessions they present proposals regarding counselors, teacher’s assistants, occupational therapists, school nurses, and many more licensed staff members within schools. 

Sept. 5 the SKPS made their first major proposal since starting in April. The district offered a 3.5% raise and other additional salary increases for the 2023–2024 and 2024–2025 school years. The value of compensation increase proposed by SKPS is worth more than $20 million. SKPS Superintendent Andrea Castaňeda states in a article on the SKPS website that with this increase “teachers will earn the same or more than 98% of teachers working in similar Oregon districts.” 

It’s no secret that being a teacher is not the most high paying job there is. 

“You just accept your salary is going to be lower than other professions with the same amount of schooling,” Ellis said. Having an increase in pay not only helps staff afford their needs but it also helps with retention. 

Due to inflation, Ellis says that district staff are “losing ground.” Especially for younger teachers, the previous contract’s salary makes it more diffculut for staff to buy groceries, pay for houses, and other finanical decisions for the current cost of living. She believes pay should at least keep up with inflation. 

Ellis believes that the new district proposal was a step in the right direction, but that SKEA and SKPS will still need some more conversations. 

Another discussion topic during the bargaining is that of class sizes. SKEA is concerned with the number of students being put into one class, case loads and safety. They hope to see a limit on work loads for all staff from the bargaining. SKEA believes these limits will help provide a safe work place and help support the individual needs of students. 

SKEA proposals aim to not only serve the staff needs for the present, but also prepare for future teachers. Ellis has seen a number of universities drop their teaching programs and a low number of incoming teachers. SKEA believes that addressing these issues will help recruit and retain incoming staff.