Salem-Keizer School District creates task force to address overcrowding


Salem-Keizer School District creates task force to address overcrowding

9 a.m. PST November 29, 2016

In the next twenty years, the Salem-Keizer School District is expected to grow to nearly 46,666 students.

With enrollment and local population increasing, the district has to confront a growing need for space.

To address this, district Superintendent Christy Perry formed the Citizens Facilities Task Force, which met for the first time Monday.

The purpose of the task force is to review the district’s Long Range Facilities Plan and provide recommendations to the board for projects to be included in the 10-year Capital Improvement Plan, as well as options for funding.

The task force consists of 15-20 citizen members from all areas of Salem and Keizer and two district liaisons. They will meet through February or March and come forward with a recommendation to the board, which can accept, reject or amend the recommendations.

Jay Remy, a spokesperson for the district, said the task force will likely have one of the following options: change the boundaries of the district, add onto existing buildings, use more modular classrooms, or build new facilities.

Overcrowding in Salem-Keizer

According to enrollment projections, the district will not have enough classroom space for more than 1,000 students in five years, more than 1,600 students in ten years and more than 2,100 students in 20 years.

“It all goes back to the fact that we’re a growing district, ” said Michael Wolfe, chief operations officer for the district. “Research shows we’ll continue to grow … to the point we won’t have capacity (for all students).”

Aging facilities, and the lack of facilities, are also a large part of the problem.

Currently, 177 portable classrooms are used throughout the district, but 40 percent are more than 20 years old, and by 2025 that number increases to nearly 60 percent.

Wolfe said the future facility work is not directly connected to the 2008 bond, which still has about $8 million to be used in the near future.

The district is required by the state to develop and maintain a school facility plan, which has to cover at least a 10-year period and include descriptions of physical improvements needed, financial plans and a ten-year capital improvement plan.

District officials believe class size and certain facilities — gymnasiums, cafeterias, libraries and auditoriums — need to be addressed first.

“Now is the time to assess our needs and develop a plan,” Wolfe said. “We are looking ahead.”

The case of McKay

McKay High School is among the most overcrowded schools in the district and can expect the most overcrowding in future years.

While McKay was built to accommodate about 1,750 students, this year’s enrollment is close to 2,400.

“It’s a great problem to have,” said McKay Principal Sara LeRoy. “We want to have them here … but we want them to have the best learning environment possible.”

Currently, McKay students fill the classrooms. Many classes are held in the school’s 14 portables and in the recently acquired annex near the parking lot.

The main building, built in 1979, has smaller classrooms by square footage than any other school in the district, LeRoy said, and it is the only school in the district that does not have an auxiliary gym or turf field.

“I don’t want to have to have three lunches,” she said, describing how teachers have to break instructional time to let students out for another lunch.

Students crowd the hallways and commons each lunch, with almost 100 percent of the student body qualifying for free and reduced lunches.

“We’re just really crowded,” she said.

On the top of the LeRoy’s wishlist for McKay is an auxiliary gym, tennis courts, and music spaces.

“We are doing the best we can,” she said. “The more help we get … the better for their learning.”

For the students

Chris Tarver, 45, is a McKay parent and member of the school’s athletic booster club board. He is part of the task force.

“I’m heavily involved at McKay High School … It’s given me an ‘awakening’ of sorts, which has lead me to really (get) behind the school and its students,” he said. “I hope to be a part of real changes being made and improving the schools… What better way than to be a part of something like this?”

Tarver said northeast Salem schools are dealing with issues that could be either solved or significantly lessened by a change to their facilities.

“Overcrowding is a big issue with many of my areas schools. So is the question of inequity,” he said. “These are areas I want to talk about more (with the task force) and find out how others feel about these topics.

“Certainly if people (on the task force) are too caught up in their own agendas, that could keep us from being helpful to the district,” he said. “But I am optimistic we will all be able to contribute to making necessary changes for the betterment of our cities kids and our schools.”

For more information, go to or call 503-399-3001.

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate, on Facebook at or on the Web at

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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