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Teachers and district settle on contract, strike averted

By Kelsey Schmidt
April 11, 2024

The Salem Keizer Education Association, and the Salem Keizer School District came to a very surprising agreement on March 26th at 1:10 am to sign a contract of various agreements between the association and the district. SKEA, the teacher's union, had previously polled its members, and 96 percent were willing to go on strike if an agreement was not found.

“I am excited about the $500 in tuition reimbursement,” McNary’s librarian, Abby Souza said. On top of the reimbursement, teachers will also get an increase in pay and more time to work on paperwork as opposed to going to staff meetings. The hour before school starts on Wednesdays will now be used to grade papers and plan lessons. 

“The thing that's powerful about collective bargaining is that it's not all about the pay. It's about the work conditions,” Sean Williams said, McNary’s Orchestra teacher. Williams feels that the class sizes and workload are a big part of the bargaining between the teachers association and the district.

A big discussion was class sizes and workloads. The district stated “ …The district will provide their ratio data for the upcoming school year and the committee with both district and SKEA representation will provide input about the numbers and ways to deal with larger classes.” 

William's only interest is the betterment of all, including the families, students, and staff at McNary, he said.

Some teachers find joy in the new contract but some teachers still feel there is more the district can do for them and the hard work they put in every day.

“I think for teachers and counselors, what we ask for is nothing. Everyone works Monday through Friday, and a lot of us end up working through weekends. We take on a lot outside of our hours,” said Leslie Barrios, a counselor at McNary.

Barrios feels very strongly that the work they do needs credit they’re not getting. 

“It's a problem district to district. The things we ask for from them are pretty justified by the work we do in and outside of our hours,” Barrios said.

The counselors, like any other teacher, deal with work outside of school; but unlike a teacher, counselors have to manage their time more critically. They are in charge of more than 100 students' schedules and well-being; for some students, that even means IEP meetings and 504 plan meetings that take weeks to plan and get dealt with by counselors. 

“Heading into spring break the association voted to approve the strike,” Principal Scott Gragg said. As for most, it was up in the air whether or not the strike would happen. But in the end, Gragg was in favor of not having to go on strike. As he didn't want it to affect the teachers or students and their families. 

“What was great about the bargaining is both sides remained at the table and came to an agreement that wouldn't impact the school,” Gragg said.

As it didn't impact the school, he also finds that there are not very many dramatic changes from a student perspective. Things will stay mostly the same for those who were not directly impacted by the contract.