District and teachers unions at impasse, possible strike looms

(This story has been updated to reflect more information from the district as well as teachers unions.)

 The Salem-Keizer School District (SKPS) and Salem-Keizer teachers unions have reached an impasse in negotiations as of Thursday, Feb. 15. 

In a public statement that can also be found on the Salem-Keizer Public School District Facebook page, Castañeda described the current plight in that the current licensed teacher’s union association had “given up” on the bargaining process, though noted that the district had not. 

“We would love to offer more pay to our staff, hire even more teachers, to have smaller class sizes, but the reality is that we have to close a budget gap and ours is over $30 million,” said SKPS Superintendent Andrea Castañeda. 

Castañeda noted that the district tried to avoid the “damaging back and forth” with their last offer, worth $37 million, for which SKEA posted a response that was previously reported by the Keizertimes as it did not properly address the Association’s needs. 

After the impasse declaration, Castañeda met with reporters to discuss specifics about the situation. 

Castañeda described three major sticking points still left between unions and the district: the definition of Full-time Equivalency (FTE), compensation as well as class sizes.

Castañeda said that blame for the impasse lies with the teacher’s unions or “licensed associations” as mentioned in the district’s video released on Facebook. 

She noted that while this is surely a difficult position, the district “would have never made the choice [the teachers unions] did.” 

“We’ll continue to engage, but from the moment of impasse forward, the tone and the stakes changed dramatically,” Castañeda finished. 

The primary issue, according to the district, lies in the available amount of funding the school has and how the requests of union representatives exceeds their offer. 

This comes, in part, from the union’s requests such as a for strict definition of FTE for teachers as well as reducing class sizes.

The district’s current budget shortfall stands at around $30 million while the union’s request put the budget at around $37 million, according to Castañeda. 

Castañeda described a scenario where the district would need to hire “around a 100 additional licensed staff in order to meet that threshold (for smaller class sizes) for just elementary and special education.”

“And in the face of having to cut over $30 million from our budget, we cannot possibly add $10 million in staffing. It’s a mathematical impossibility.” 

When asked about how full-time equivalency pay for teachers will be defined, the video described how while having a set definition for FTE is nice, teachers often put in extra hours due to after school meetings and the like. 

The superintendent also noted how the definition of FTE, since COVID, has become more abstract.

According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, FTE employment entails the total number of regular straight-time hours (i.e., not including overtime or holiday hours) worked by employees divided by the number of compensable hours applicable to the fiscal year.

“The place that we are in disagreement with the associations right now is that they want to assert that each day can be limited to eight hours,” Castañeda said.

The issue comes in, according to the district, when teacher conferences or other events come into play and cause teachers to go over that 40 hour per week standard. 

When asked if this meant that teachers would be paid for overtime, Castañeda responded that “Those are the things that we’re talking through at the table every time we talk about this article.” 

Moving forward, the district noted that a week-long cooldown period takes effect then the district is required to submit its final offer to teacher’s unions before a strike is officially called. 

When asked about class sizes and the new language the district has introduced in proposals to teachers, Castañeda described how the district will “introduce a cyclical approach to accountability that is jointly governed through a committee structure and includes a regular exchange and review of real time class size and ratio data.”

She also pointed out that the class size issues may not be just the issue of Salem-Keizer but all of Oregon as this issue is “very much driven by the problems in the state funding formula.”

At one point, Castañeda was asked about bargaining sticking points and what the district would be willing to concede to reach a compromise. 

“We do not have any more money to put on the table. So the way that we solve these problems is going to need to rely on the most creative and insightful compromises that both parties can accept,” Castañeda explained. 

“And this is where we have to listen hard, we have to dig deep. We’re going to have to be a little creative on both sides, and there will have to be concessions on both sides.”

Castañeda responded to questions about how public statements from teachers unions suggested that money was not an issue for them in regards to bargaining.

She responded that the union’s rejection of the last offer indicated that money was not off the table and that if the unions had accepted the district’s compensation negotiation offer then its statements about finances not mattering would make their statements more true.

Salem-Keizer Education Association (SKEA) put out a video statement on Feb. 15, and also noted that “two very important topics to SKEA members where we have not been able to make progress as of late are Full- Time Equivalent and class-size/ caseload caps,” according to the SKEA information release. 

The video, which was released before bargaining began on Feb. 15, shows SKEA president Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg about to head into mediation. 

She described how many of the issues to do with budgeting falls onto the district as they have “been hiring at the district level for years while student enrollment has declined by the thousands.” 

Scialo-Lakeberg continued, discussing how this budgetary issue is one of the district’s own making as [the district] has continued with grand expenditures that are not sustainable. 

In regards to FTE bargaining, SKEA noted in a letter after mediation that, “The District’s position fails to acknowledge the work licensed staff do to be prepared to teach or interact with students— offering compensation narrowly connected to their time with students only.” 

SKEA noted that, in regards to class sizes, the district proposal simply extended the status quo of continuing with larger sizes and did not address the association’s noted issues. 

The association described that Oregon has some of the highest class sizes in the nation. 

For those interested in seeing the entire bargaining process, visit 

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-105

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