Keizer families get face to face with SKPS

 In the last two weeks, Salem- Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) has made the rounds holding listening sessions at four of the six high schools. Monday night was Keizer and McNary High School’s turn. 

With a little over 100 people gathered inside the McNary cafeteria, families, faculty and others in attendance were given presentations regarding the looming budget issues and student goals. 

Those budget issues certainly seemed to be the main point of focus, as two audience members held signs questioning the district’s decisions and communication regarding the issues. 

“Why is the district crying poor when they are sitting on a carry-over of over $81 million. It’s about time to stop the district’s misinformation!” one sign read. “When are Salem- Keizer district administration and Superintendent Castañeda going to start telling the truth about the financial numbers?” the other asked. 

It all comes as the district stares down a deficit next school year of at least $38 million. 

Castañeda’s presentation centered around those budget issues. And while there were no specifics discussed regarding the budget, Castañeda did make one reassurance. 

“We are not starting with sports and music,” Castañeda said. 

There had been unsubstantiated rumors that those programs were where the district would look to make cuts first. And while Castañeda said she didn’t know where the cuts would start, she said they would not begin with sports and music programs. 

While the solution is still being discussed, Castañeda did share the root causes for the budget problems. 

SKPS is the state’s second largest district behind Portland, with Beaverton also close in size. But both of those districts receive significantly more funding than SKPS. 

This issue comes from the property taxes brought in, and Salem-Keizer sits far behind the other two. SKPS gets in $2,300 less per pupil than Portland, and around $1,000 less than Beaverton, an issue Castañeda calls “fundamentally unfair.” 

But even if steps were taken to solve this inequality, Castañeda knows that that isn’t a fix for the current budget issues. 

“We can not solve that problem in time for this problem,” Castañeda said. 

The point of these initial listening sessions are for the district to gather feedback from the community about these looming problems. Following the presentations, attendees broke into smaller discussion groups where people could talk about the specifics. 

Using the feedback they have received, the district plans to announce the first rounds of reductions after Thanksgiving. Castañeda recognizes that those meetings could be more contentious than these initial listening sessions. 

There are two final sessions scheduled. First, on Monday, Nov. 6 at South Salem High School from 6 – 7:30 p.m. and then on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at North Salem from 6 – 7:30 p.m.