Of the eight initiatives on this fall’s ballot, five of them come from anti-tax activist, Bill Sizemore. And the campaigns to defeat those measures share one office, with the name “Defend Oregon,” on the door.
Much of Defend Oregon’s money comes from longtime Sizemore adversaries: teachers unions.
Perhaps nowhere does the conflict get more personal than over Ballot Measure 60. That initiative would base teacher pay raises on classroom performance, rather than on seniority.
But as Rob Manning reports, Bill Sizemore’s money is also a big issue this week, as the unions and Sizemore take their bitter political differences into a Portland courtroom.
Sizemore and the teachers’ unions hold very different views of taxes and government services. But over the years, that ideological fight has gotten litigious.
In 2002, a jury found that Sizemore and his signature gatherers engaged in a pattern of racketeering when they put two initiatives on the 2000 ballot. Teachers’ unions have been fighting for the money they’re owed ever since.
Sizemore pleaded poverty, but continued his initiative efforts.
The legal conflict is certainly part of the election politics. Here’s teacher, Rebecca Levison, of Defend Oregon’s “Parents and Teachers Know Better” coalition taking aim at Sizemore’s education measures.
Rebecca Levison: “This November, voters will consider two ill-conceived, harmful measures sponsored by racketeer Bill Sizemore.”
Bill Sizemore maintains that the unions are tying him up in court and running misinformation campaigns to avoid the issues he’s raising.
Bill Sizemore: “If they would have this discussion based upon the merits of the measure, it would be one thing.”
But Sizemore doesn’t stay on the high ground for long.
Bill Sizemore: “I’ve fought the teachers’ unions for a lot of years, and I think they’re like a cancer upon the public education system. They don’t like to talk about the merits. They’ll run a bunch of silly ads, and talk about everything but the merits of the measure.”
By combining two things that teachers are sensitive about - their own pay and standardized test scores - Sizemore struck a nerve with Measure 60. And as Sizemore predicted, the “Parents and Teachers Know Better” coalition did debut a TV ad last week, focused on the teacher pay initiative. It starts with an 8th grade teacher.
TV ad: “As a teacher, I have serious concerns about Measure 60. Not all children learn in the same way…."
But like Sizemore, the union can’t resist a personal jab.
TV ad: “Measure 60 was written by Bill Sizemore who has no experience in education…."
But thanks to the unions, Sizemore does have experience in the court system. That’s where he is this week, defending a charitable foundation the union believes is hiding money that Sizemore should pay the teachers.
Meantime on the campaign trail, Defend Oregon is fighting all five of Sizemore’s initiatives, including the one that goes after their paychecks - Measure 60. The campaign complains the measure would mandate a new statewide pay system, without supplying specifics. Treasure Mackley with Defend Oregon points out that the measure doesn’t define the term “classroom performance” that would guide teacher pay.
Treasure Mackley: “What we’ve seen in states and municipalities across the country who’ve attempted to implement similar measures, has been an increase in standardized tests, across the board.”
Teachers and parents with the campaign argue that test scores are enough of an emphasis in the classroom already, without basing teacher pay on them.
Sizemore has been inconsistent about granting interview and debate requests in connection to his measures.
OPB’s “Think Out Loud” didn't get phone calls back from him. And for the recent show on the teacher pay initiative, Measure 60, former state representative, Jeff Kropf, argued in favor. He conceded that he would have preferred more specifics. But he sees a bright side.
Jeff Kropf: “I think that vagueness is a positive, ultimately, because it will give teachers an opportunity to have input in the rule-making process, to say ‘OK, since if this is now going to be the law of the land, here’s how to make it work the best’.”
But Measure 60 opponents warn that regardless of specifics, the spirit of the measure replaces collaboration with competition. And they say teachers might leave struggling schools for better ones, if they could earn more.
Some former teachers and teachers-in-training have publicly advocated in favor of performance pay, like Measure 60’s, because the current strict ‘seniority’ system rewards longevity, and not always talent.
Even some Defend Oregon supporters quietly admit to some shortcomings in the current system. But they’re adamant that a Bill Sizemore initiative is not the way to correct them.