Teachers strike averted

After a March 25 mediation session that began and ended early in the morning, both the teachers unions and the Salem-Keizer School District (SKPS) have finally come to a tentative agreement. 

Where teachers previously voted to authorize a strike, the first such vote in Oregon’s history, with 94% of union members voting to authorize it, it appears that, for now, a strike has been avoided. 

Though parties appear to have reached consensus, the Salem-Keizer Education Association (SKEA) must first ratify the agreement then it will be sent before the SKPS board for final approval. 

Highlights of the tentative two-year agreement show that SKPS teachers will receive a 6.25% increase along with a retention bonus of $6,000 as well as bilingual and special education teachers receiving pay raises. 

The total cost of the new agreement is $42.5 million, as mentioned in a press release by SKPS. 

This is new deal is $5 million more than the previous $37 million offer, which Castañeda previously described as “the highest the district could offer.” 

“We are pleased to reach a fair and respectful contract that recognizes the quality and commitment of our educators,” said Superintendent Andrea Castañeda in a statement on the SKPS website. 

“In reaching this agreement, we demonstrate that shared interests and a determination to stay at the table can lead to fair and responsible contracts, overcoming differences that arise even in dire economic circumstances.”

In a press release, SKEA President Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg stated that, “When educators began this bargain back in April of 2023, we knew our contract needed to be revamped from the bottom up and that’s what tonight’s tentative agreement represents – a new start for students and educators in Salem.” 

According to previous reporting by Keizertimes, the main contentions left for that meeting revolved around both classroom sizes as well as how teacher workloads would be calculated. 

Here is a list and description of what the district and SKEA have come together on so far.

Classroom sizes

According to SKEA’s most recent mediation paperwork, the association has asked for the district to provide $600,000 each year to help facilitate overloaded classrooms as well as establish an Elementary Class Ratio Committee (ECRC) to address the issues teachers present in regards to class sizes. 

The association will also be afforded the opportunity to submit their desired class size and caseload numbers which the district must print in the district’s Proposed Budget Book in order to acknowledge the association’s recommendations. 

These committees will be created in the spring and fall so as to create a determination of ideal classroom ratios, the amount of students per teacher, for each semester. 

Full-time Equivalency (FTE) 

Another point of contention in mediation dealt with how FTE was calculated for teachers. According to SKEA mediation paperwork, FTE will be defined as the number of hours a staff member works in comparison to a full five-day, 40-hour work week. 

An example given utilizes the rates of secondary teachers FTE who have classes scheduled on an A/B day schedule, indicating FTE would work on a graduating scale, or more designated class time means a higher FTE rating. 

So at 1 FTE, or a full 40-hour work week, secondary teachers would teach no more than six class periods whereas someone designated as .5 FTE, or someone working around 20 hours per week, would teach no more than three assigned class periods. 


According to mediation documentation, professional compensation for teachers and other staff will increase by 6.25% this year and another 3.5% in 2025. 

Teachers will also receive a one-time retention bonus of $6,000 for teachers whose FTE is greater than or equal to .5. Employees below that will receive a one-time payment of $3,000.

Two other highlights include the increased pay for bilingual teachers as well as special education teachers found on pages 4 and 5 of mediation documentation. 

Bilingual teachers who teach in a fully bilingual class will receive a pay differential increase of 8% while other teachers qualified for bilingual classes though not teaching them would receive a 4% differential pay increase. 

Special education teachers, nurses and speech/language pathologists will receive a 9.1% pay differential pay increase. 

Employee Benefits

In regards to benefits, the highlight here is the increase to health insurance pay that Salem-Keizer educators will receive, according to mediation documentation.

The district will now contribute $1,400 per month to employee insurance plans this year and $1,500 next year.

In this agreement, the district would also contribute around $100 per month to employees’ Health Savings Accounts.

Work Dates and Holidays

A number of changes were made in this category revolving around including the max amount of days per year staff is contractually required to work, no more than 192 days, the observation of Juneteenth as a paid holiday, should it fall on a normal school day; the amount of time teachers are allotted for grading, solidifying compensation for teachers working in summer school, done on an hourly per diem rate as well as setting aside parent/teacher conference days for staff who deal with grading, according to SKEA mediation documentation

The final piece of documentation from the bargaining session revolves around a common understanding of how the district got into this position in the first place given the inadequate state funding scheme used for schools in Oregon. 

Due to this, both parties acknowledged a series of limitations for teachers and case managers.

One Wednesday per month, before student contract time, shall be designated as district/supervisor directed time.

All other Wednesdays in the month, before student contact time, shall be designated as educator directed time.

One additional time before or after student contact time each week may be district/supervisor directed time. This does not include safety committee meetings.

The most recent teachers strike in Oregon occurred last November, lasting for 11 days in total. 

After the strike, the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) secured things such as classroom size committees, a 14.4% compounded increase to pay and securing more planning time for teachers, to name a few.

Despite a variety of differences between the school districts, teachers in both were able to secure more based, in part, on union backing. 

Many Americans’ opinions of unions differ as, according to a recent Pew Research poll, 55% of respondents approved of unions while 41% viewed them negatively. Union approval varied greatly based on political ideology as well with Democrats tending to support unions while Republicans tended to view them negatively.

In a 2020 study from the Journal of Economy and Society, researchers noted several interesting results in regards to the effects of teachers unions. 

They found that “teachers’ unions can influence the educational system even if deprived of bargaining rights,” asserting the notion that the real power comes in the collective voice that unions are able to bring together under a single banner. 

Researchers also posited that “teacher quality and education outcomes are superior in unionized districts as compared to nonunion districts.” 

Results like these call into question the validity of limiting teachers’ rights to bargain and, in many cases, researchers noted that districts impacted through laws and rules that hobble unions will create more pronounced negative impacts in poorer areas as compared to wealthy ones. 

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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