Salem-Keizer board ratifies teacher contract, students speak against weapons detectors

Students walk through an Evolv weapons detector as part of a demonstration at Stephens Middle School on Friday, March 22, 2024. The Salem-Keizer School District is considering adding detectors to middle and high schools. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

The Salem-Keizer School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a two-year contract with district teachers, ending a contentious bargaining process that almost led to the first teacher strike in district history.

Director Satya Chandragiri, who is traveling, was absent from the meeting, and Director Cynthia Richardson left prior to voting on agenda items, making unanimous votes 5-0.

Board members also unanimously approved a supplemental budget which adds retention bonuses and other employee costs from bargaining, and approved declaring a budget committee vacancy.

Weapons detectors

Though not on the agenda, discussion of gun violence involving teenagers and Superintendent Andrea Castañeda’s proposal to install weapons detectors at district middle and high schools dominated the public comment period.

Middle and high school students, many of them with youth activist group Latinos Unidos Siempre, spoke in opposition to district plans to install weapons detectors, saying schools instead need to focus on root causes of gun violence by providing mental health services for students and more community spaces where young people can go.

District leaders held an open house on weapons detectors March 22, with systems from two vendors on display. At that event, Castañeda said she was still deciding whether to move forward, and that any weapons detector system would have a pilot before district-wide adoption.

District officials have not responded to requests from Salem Reporter following that meeting and again this week to explain next steps in the process or a timeline for making a decision. Tuesday’s meeting did not include any public discussion of plans for weapons detectors, though the board met in a non-public session at 4:30 p.m. to discuss school security.

A weapon detector screen shown at a demonstration at Stephens Middle School on Friday, March 22, 2024. The Salem-Keizer School District is considering adding detectors to middle and high schools. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Students at the meeting raised concerns that the detectors would make students feel unwelcome at school, make them late to class and lead to racial profiling of Black and brown students.

“I don’t want them in my school because it will feel like a jail. Schools need more counselors, classes with fewer students and teachers who aren’t racist,” one seventh grade student said, speaking in Spanish.

Sirr, a 10th grade student who attended the March demonstration, questioned how detectors would work without turning schools into a prison where students aren’t allowed to go outside.

“It seems like a false solution to a problem that requires care and perspective,” he said at the meeting.

School construction

Board members also heard a report from the Comunity Bond Oversight Committee, a volunteer citizen group overseeing the $700 million school construction package voters approved in 2018.

The district is winding down a major construction push after making renovations at nearly every district school, with new additions at high schools.

Mark Shipman, a co-chair of the committee, said despite escalating construction costs and difficulty procuring some items, including HVAC supplies, the project has been a financial success.

Using premiums from bond sales and grants, school construction managers were able to expand the scope of some projects without taking more from taxpayers, he said at the meeting.

“What has made this bond so successful has been the financial aptitude, flexibility, risk mitigation of your staff and the entire construction team for the school district,” he said.

Currently, 97% of total funds from the bond have been spent, with $26 million remaining to close out final projects.

Original story below:

This article was updated to reflect that the teacher union voted Monday to ratify the contract.

The Salem-Keizer School Board meets Tuesday, April 9, to ratify a contract with the district teacher union, a vote which will close out a contentious bargaining process that almost led to the first teacher strike in district history.


To participate

The Salem-Keizer School Board meets Tuesday, April 9, in the boardroom at the former Student Services Support Center, 2575 Commercial St. S.E. The public meeting begins at 6 p.m. The board will meet in executive session at 4:30 p.m. to discuss plans related to school safety and threats against schools. Executive session meetings are closed to the public.

Members of the public may sign up in advance to provide written, in-person or virtual public comment. People can sign up using this form.

Public comment sign-ups close at 3 p.m. Monday.

The meeting will be streamed on CC:Media, channel 21 or on YouTube in English and Spanish.

Teacher union contract

Teachers and other members of the Salem-Keizer Education Association voted Monday to ratify a new two-year contract, with 94% of members in support.

The contract now goes to the school board Tuesday for ratification.

The agreement covers about 2,600 licensed school district employees, including counselors, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists and other professionals who work directly in schools.

It include a 9.75% raise over two years, a $6,000 one-time retention bonus for employees working at least half time, and changes to policies and procedures around disruptive student behavior and large elementary school class sizes.

The full agreement is included in the board packet.

Supplemental budget

The board will vote on adopting a supplemental budget, which is required by law to make changes to school revenue and expenses during the year.

The updated budget reflects that the district received about $9 million more from the state this year than budgeted, mostly because legislators approved a $10.2 billion state school fund. The district budgeted for a $9.9 billion statewide school fund.

The supplemental budget also reflects increased expenses because of wage increases in the new union contracts, and the one-time retention bonuses paid to employees.

Budget committee vacancy

The board will declare a position on the budget committee vacant after former budget committee member Lisa Harnisch was appointed to the school board in March. Harnisch represents west Salem, zone 1, and is filling in the seat previously held by Osvaldo Avila, who resigned earlier this year.

The budget committee includes the full school board, as well as seven other appointed community volunteers. The group meets in the spring to review the district’s proposed budget, ask questions, suggest changes and ultimately vote on recommending the budget to the school board.

Harnisch’s term on the budget committee would have ended June 30, 2026. After the board declares her position vacant, the district will begin taking applications for volunteers to fill her seat for the remainder of the term.

Applications will open April 12 and close May 31. The board plans to make an appointment at its June 11 meeting.

Transportation plan

The board will consider but not yet vote on a supplemental transportation plan, which outlines the situations where the school district provides bus service for students who live within school walk zones.

Typically, elementary students who live within 1 mile of school and secondary students within a mile and a half don’t get bus service. But the district can bus students who live closer if it can demonstrate to the state that students can’t reasonably be expected to walk to school because of hazards along the route, like poor visibility, obstructions, a lack of sidewalks and the safety of street crossings.

If the state approves the district’s plan, state money covers 70% of the transportation costs.

The plan identifies about 2,100 district students who live within 72 “hazard zones” where walking to school is too dangerous. The largest number attend schools within Sprague High School and West Salem High School’s feeder areas.

A list of all hazard areas by school and how many students they impact begins on page 92 of the board packet.

Other agenda items

  • The board will hold a first reading for three new curriculum adoptions: high school English language arts, middle school math and newcomer English language development. The curriculum would be approved at a later meeting.
  • The board will consider proclamations for Arab American History Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month.
  • The board will receive written reports on school construction projects and the financial audit of its spending from the state Student Investment Account.
  • The board will hear a report from Superintendent Andrea Castañeda and the Community Bond Oversight Committee, which updates the board on projects voters approved in a 2018 bond.

Contact Keizertimes Staff:
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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