Salem-Keizer is Oregon’s second largest school district. There are 65 Board-covered schools in our district, including 4 charter schools. Our school system has over 42,000 students and employs about 2900 people. About 52% of the students are youth of color while school staff are about 82% white. At least 60% percent of our students live in poverty, and about 1100 students are houseless. The teachers and support staff are underpaid and over-bossed, their work can be contracted out, and their retirement benefits are not secure. The school workers and the students experience forms of crisis but experience them in different ways.
Our Salem-Keizer School Board has 7 elected directors and a superintendent. There is also a school bureaucracy that functions with little accountability. Elections for 3 Board seats will be held in May, meaning that election campaigns for these seats will begin soon.
The passage of the school bond measure in May provided funds needed to relieve school overcrowding and strengthen some programs, but tough economic times are ahead and the schools are underfunded. There is a growing recognition that social crises are negatively affecting youth and that youth trauma affects children in the pre-kindergarten programs and in all grades. School district boundaries are being reset under pressure.
The Board majority prioritizes business interests over students and doesn’t look like our community. The Board chairperson and two directors are associated with the Republican Party. The Board’s attorney frequently intervenes in Board meetings because this leadership is incompetent. They support contracting out of public services and the attacks on the Public Employee Retirement System through a statewide school board association. The Board takes advantage of the lack of unity between parents, school workers, and students and tries to create the false impression of parental and student involvement. The Board’s full-attendance program won’t solve underfunding, youth trauma, resource allocation, and violence in the schools. Oregon Right to Life and business interests have a controlling edge in our education system.
Socialists say that full public and secular education is a right for everyone. The schools should not be held hostage to capitalist, racist and reactionary agendas. We oppose corporate control of education and the school-to-prison pipeline. Students, school staff, and working-class parents need to be in solidarity with one another and in direct control of the school system.
It’s important that we have contested elections in each district and that people-of-color candidates with progressive programs for change win. These candidates will need support from us after they win. Without community support they will be tokenized, isolated and disempowered by the business-first, racist, and anti-working-class forces. Look for the rise of a progressive coalition working for positive change in the schools in the coming months.