It was an announcement that had been expected by many, but that didn’t soften the blow last week when Salem-Keizer Public Schools Superintendent Andrea Castañeda announced that hundreds of district staff would have to be laid off at the end of the school year.
At the Nov. 14 SKPS school board meeting, Castañeda made an updated budget presentation that concluded with the announcement that the first wave of massive cuts, which would focus on district level staff, would be officially announced in December. These staffing cuts would save roughly $12 million.
“If there was any way to avert that or make it less true we would have already done it,” Castañeda said in the presentation.
In all, the district is looking to cut $70 million in spending ahead of the next school year.
Following this initial set of cuts, further cuts will be needed which will happen at the school level. Many of those cuts will come with help from the community input listening sessions the district held last month.
This all happens as negotiations with both the teachers and classified workers unions are heading to mediation. Castañeda stressed that these cuts would be necessary even if those negotiations concluded today.
There was some good news in Castañeda’s presentation.
With the changes in spending the district has made in the first quarter, the projected deficit has dropped. Heading into the year, there was a projected negative balance of $38 million following the 2024-25 school year. That projection has dropped to a $17 million shortfall.
“[This] shows the excellent effects of the hard work that has been done in our district in one quarter resetting and closely managing our expenses,” Castañeda said.
Castañeda made a point to emphasize that these are projections. The district did not save tens of millions of dollars in a single quarter, but if they hold these reduced spending habits, the lesser deficit will be the end result in two years.
These new projections have expenses down $28 million for the 2023-24 school year, and $16 million less in 2024-25.
While there are many contributing factors to the looming deficit, the end of federal COVID relief funds is a significant one.
Currently, the district uses those funds for around $23 million of recurring expenses including teachers, nurses and other critical school personnel.