Archives for April 2012

Voters First, politicians second

In 1812, Mass. Gov. Elbridge Gerry redrew his state’s electoral boundaries to benefit his political party in future elections. Some of Boston’s redrawn districts looked eerily like a salamander, and a cartoon that ran in a local newspaper derisively dubbed those districts a “Gerrymander.”

Last year, the Ohio Apportionment Board redrew the boundary lines for the 132 seats of the Ohio General Assembly and the 16 U.S. Congressional seats. This event should have been an open, non-partisan process. However, what took place was gerrymandering, pure and simple.

After holding secret backroom meetings, using a national political consultant and paying two top Republican staffers nearly a quarter-million dollars, Ohio’s electoral map was gerrymandered beyond recognition.

The end result was a political map that benefitted politicians, ensuring their party’s candidates would be elected without competition. Bizarre districts zigzag across Ohio and skip across Lake Erie, dividing cities and counties. More than 80 percent of the electoral districts aren’t competitive. This means your vote won’t count in the next election.

If the current map stays in place and one more Republican is elected to the legislature, they can place Constitutional amendments on the ballot and bypass the referendum process. If seven more Republicans are elected to the legislature, any law that is passed will be “veto-proof” and can be implemented immediately as “emergency” legislation. Imagine this scenario when SB 5 was passed.

Voters First, a coalition of more than 25 Ohio non-partisan organizations led by the League of Women Voters, is circulating petitions to amend Ohio’s Constitution.

This amendment would create the Ohio Citizens’ Redistricting Committee, a twelve-member group that would decide the boundaries of electoral districts. The committee would be comprised of four Republicans, four Democrats and four voters with no party affiliation. Politicians, lobbyists, corporations and other special interest groups could not be members. The committee would eliminate backroom deals and ensure open, honest and competitive elections.

Right now, we need your signature and petition-circulating skills to obtain the 385,000 signatures required to get this amendment on the November ballot. We need to make sure that the voters choose their elected officials instead of letting the politicians choose their voters.

We need you to sign and to circulate petitions. Call Judy Nelson at the CEA office at 253-4731 to take action now.

The Cleveland Plan: The fight is on

We all want to improve our schools. But the plan by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson reeks of union busting. In fact, Governor Kasich has mentioned the Cleveland Plan as a model that could be used in urban districts across Ohio. He “begged” the State Board of Education to support it. He prayed in his church for its enactment.

The plan includes creation and assimilation of additional charter schools, closing or reconstitution of failing schools and flexible business practices that would give administrators the authority to override policies mutually negotiated over many years.

Gov. Kasich asked the State Board of Education to support the Cleveland Plan. We don’t know what the official language will look like, but it won’t be good. The plan will:

* Allow the Cleveland district to share money with charter schools
* Create a new teacher evaluation system that considers additional factors and weakens seniority
* Start the collective bargaining agreement from scratch
* Allow administrators more flexibility and independence to deal with staffing and financial matters, including determining contract duration, terms and non-renewal criteria

CEA President Rhonda Johnson told NBC 4, “All this is a sampling of Senate Bill 5. I think the way to go about changing schools and changing the culture is working with the teachers’ union and with the teachers in the school district, not working against them.”

Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, told the station: “This whole idea of a fresh start contract where you just throw away the existing contract and start with whatever the administration hands to you, and say accept this or don’t, that’s Senate Bill 5 all over again.”

Cropper has said teachers want to collaborate to improve Cleveland schools, but they have been shut out, even though the Cleveland Teachers Union has been collaborating with the Cleveland schools on peer review and teacher mentoring, has deferred $25 million in pay increases and has supported the transfer of teachers and the reconstituting of schools.

Cleveland teachers already have great ideas for improving student achievement. For instance, their New Generation School would place intense focus on reading and math in third and fourth grades.

Teachers want to see their students succeed, but big business in Cleveland is holding students hostage, hoping to force teachers to do what they want or force the district into receivership, in order to take away teachers’ rights.

We need your help to fight back. Tell legislative leaders not to pass this SB 5-like plan. Instead, urge the mayor to sit down and talk with teachers, listen to their ideas about how to improve student achievement and collaborate on new ideas. Go to www.legislature.state.oh.us/search.cfm to contact your state legislators.