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Monday, November 01, 2010

Okay, One Last Item about the Levy

So it's the eve before the ballots are opened. The committee that got formed in opposition to the levy, Committee for Responsible Education Spending, wanted to get issues out there. We wanted parents especially to be better informed about levies and the specifics about this one. I'd like to think that we accomplished that goal.

I want to thank the members of our committee for their hard work; Dorothy Neville and Meg Diaz (two crack spreadsheet and data analysts), Eric Muhs (Ballard high science teacher), Ken Berry (IA at Van Asselt Elementary) and Charlie Mas. It was very helpful to have staff on the committee who could lend their voices as those with feet on the ground and in our schools.

I ask going forward that each of you consider each future levy carefully. Each levy IS a tax and we are dependent upon our friends and neighbors who don't have children in SPS to help us pass levies. There are those people for whom $48 a year (plus all the other levies and initiatives currently funded) can add up; those are people on fixed incomes. We owe it to all our fellow citizens to think about what we ask them to help us pay for our children educations.

Last, I have to point out one last thing from this election.

It's interesting because levies are usually mild-minded affairs but I guess having a somewhat organized opposition (and getting traction from some media) made Schools First nervous. I had hopped over to their site just to get a final count of schools that had endorsed the levy. (I was interested because we had sent every PTA a letter before school started asking for equal time if they were considering endorsing the levy at their first or second PTA meeting. If you are debating an issue at a PTA meeting, you should always allow both sides of an issue to be presented. Several PTAs refused even though they allowed Schools First to come. As a former PTSA co-president, I find this in very bad form.)

I glanced at their In the News page and saw the Seattle Times masthead with this:

Opinion: Vote for Seattle school levy to make improvements, cover cuts
“Supporting and strengthening public education is a value that we, and the vast majority of Seattle voters, hold dear. Vote ‘yes’ on the school levy that is on the bottom of your ballot. Its failure would further stress our shortchanged schools and undermine work to get and keep students on track.”
The Seattle Times October 21, 2010

Now glancing at that, with the Times' masthead, you might assume someone from the Times wrote this. I was a little startled given that I knew the Times had told voters to reject the levy. Well, this is the opinion piece that the Seattle Council PTSA president and the SEA president had written. But if you were just scrolling through the page, you might think it was the Times' opinion.

But again, this has been a tough campaign so maybe Schools First just wanted any advantage they might be able to create.

(Update: the Times was not happy to have their Seattle Times logo used in this manner. Here's what they had to say.

One thing that sticks in the craw of voters is a campaign playing fast and loose in their ads. In this case, it is Schools First, the campaign pushing a $48 million supplemental schools levy for the Seattle Public Schools.

In an effort to show support for the levy across Seattle's establishment, the campaign placed the Seattle Times logo atop a favorable opinion piece that ran in the Times. Click here and it appears one is about to view the Seattle Times editorial about the levy. But what appears is a guest opinion piece written by Olga Addae and Ramona Hattendorf, leaders of the Seattle Education Association and the Seattle PTSA respectively.

Adding to voter confusion: the Times editorial board 's actual editorial on the topic recommends voters reject the levy.

Obviously, Schools First doesn't want to highlight this fact, but the campaign's attempt to cojoin the Times logo with its words is a contrivance that makes it difficult for supporters to make a case for the levy.

This goes to the heart of the public trust. Voters concerned about a lack of transparency and honesty in the Seattle School District's finances aren't reassured by campaign messaging that blurs the line between truth and fiction.

(They updated this saying that Schools First has agreed to remove the Seattle Times logo from the campaign ad.)

Further update; I'm thinking Schools First doesn't understand what is decent campaigning. I checked their website and they removed the Times' masthead and attributed authorship of the opinion piece.

However, a little further down they did it again. There's the Times' masthead with quotes below it labeled "NW Voices." What is that? Those are letters to the editor. Again, you can't just slap up the Times' logo and quotes and not say who said them. The average person will believe that is what the Times' is saying. And, just below that from the Rainier Valley Post ARE quotes attributed to "letter to the editor." So why didn't they say that for the Times' letters to the editor? They didn't because they wanted people to believe, just as with the opinion piece, that the Times is endorsing the levy and the Times supported REJECTING the levy.

11 comments:

ParentofThree said...

Out and about last night, asked a couple of friends how they voted. Surprised to hear "No on the levy." Of course it was revealed in low voices as it was a big step for some people.

ParentofThree said...

My No vote was cast a week ago.

Dorothy Neville said...

It ain't over yet, folks.

Here's a couple facts to consider.

The Seattle School Levy typically passes by a wide margin, but that's only because very few people bother to vote. Seattle School Levies get about 2 YES votes for every student enrolled in the district.

Levies on November ballots tend to pass with approval in the low 50s.

West Seattle had high turnout in Feb and only passed the school levy 63-36. And West Seattle has good reason to be really ticked off at the district. The 46th district had the highest Feb 2010 levy turnout, (75-25 approval) but NE Seattle has been hard hit with district blunders.

The 43rd LD had the highest approval percent in Feb (82-18) but the 43rd Dems this year failed to muster votes for endorsement. They elected not to take a position on the Supplemental Levy.

King County is expecting 69% turnout. If we do get that high a turnout, the levy could be very very close or could fail.

If you haven't gotten your ballot filled in or mailed yet, do not let the pineapple express deter you! You could make a difference.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I was just being sort of philosophical here but folks, data show that they get about 18% of the votes in the last days so get that ballot it. Every vote does count especially if we are counting on sending a message to our district.

Anonymous said...

I worked on the NO! end of things. I've put signs out, printed flyers (thank you Dorothy Neville) and passed them out at schools, made a sign that I put on top of my car wherever I park for more than 30 minutes and emailed a list of folks in my son's class at Stevens. I am a Wash. state certified teacher and most (99% I asked) of my teaching staff friends are voting 'no,' but many of my peers were voting 'yes' without giving it a lot of thought... As I became more comfortable with my pitch I spread the word everywhere I could--in line at the store, buying coffee, at the library, on a walk, wherever I was with humans around in Seattle! I learned the importance of a 'Stranger' endorsement, too. Many folks in the 20-30ish age bracket would say "did the Stranger say yes or no? I went with them." Live and learn. I also discovered the the Stevens PTA gave $500 to Schools First, put an endorsement for 'yes' in their parent newsletter and didn't actually have anyone speak at the Oct. PTA meeting due to lack of time, but Barbara Kelley was there and ready. I contacted the principal and she was very kind about being willing to hear the 'no' side and publish a 'no' statement, but the Stevens Speak went out before our exchange was finalized. One thing is for sure, my son has learned about being politically active, which has been worth everything.
Anastasia Samuelsen

Dorothy Neville said...

Anastasia, yes the Stranger is a powerful source of endorsements for that age group. However, they tend not to vote in school levy elections on their own. How many of them will turn the ballot over and slog through that whole list of unopposed judges to find the levy? Levies in November ballots get between 7 and 10% blank responses.

I have spoken with many older voters who usually support schools, but it was very easy to explain why this one was different and to vote no.

Remember, school levies usually get only two yes votes for every student. So if you usually vote yes, but are voting no, that could add up to a meaningful change in outcome.

Dorothy Neville said...

I am counting the minutes until the 8PM ballots returned update tonight. If Mel's figure of 18% holds for this election, then we will not get anywhere near 70% turnout predicted. Tonight they will say how many ballots have come in since Friday. (Seattle had less than 30% returned as of then)

This could be good or bad for the levy. If it means those hipsters who want cheap and convenient booze didn't bother to vote, then it means fewer votes simply because the Stranger endorsed it.

But it could also mean that a high fraction of the voters are the same as the die-hard school levy supporters. Who knows!

There are somewhere about 3000 teachers? Let's say a third of them live in the city and are opposed to the levy. If they usually vote yes, but this time vote no AND each have convinced 5 other people to vote no, then we could definitely pull off a defeat of the levy. It won't be easy, but defeating the levy IS a plausible scenario.

Don't forget that about 10% of the city are die-hard school levy opposers. Those are the ones that take the time to vote in Feb levies, just to say no.

Dorothy Neville said...

Seattle Times responds.

The First Arnold said...

Dorothy,

Thanks for the Seattle Times update.

I was real disappointed in School's First attempt to manipulate Seattle Times position! Certainly speaks to School's First credibility. For me, School's First credibility is ruined- forever.

In the end..Seattle Times had another opportunity to educate voters!

I put out hundreds of flyers in libraries, Community Centers, Community Bulletin Boards, coffee shop counters, restaurants etc. Put flyers by voter guides- a couple of times.

Had opportunity to talk about Audit. Definately swayed a few folks.

SPS sent multiple messages reminding parents to vote.

We'll see if the Levy passes. I still think we live in a generous and caring society. I'll be surprised if the Levy doesn't pass.

Dorothy Neville said...

Well, thanks goes to Mel for noticing and contacting the Times.

As for SchoolsFirst, I've been musing about them. Do they still have a function in this city? If so, what?

See, back before 2008, school levies needed a supermajority, which meant 60% yes plus some sort of complicated formula for turnout was needed. There was a reason for a coalition to form for the simple matter of making sure levies pass. They raised lots of money as well, 300 to 500 thousand dollars per levy election cycle. They could be dormant at other times and didn't need to be involved in the district otherwise.

But now the Supermajority rule has been repealed (campaigning for that was done by a group called People for Our Public Schools and they spent 3 million dollars statewide for that). So the need for a large GOTV for Seattle School levies is no longer so important (regular levies, not this abominable supplemental). They realize this, since they raised about $195K for the 2010 levy campaign, much less than previous years.

But I think we are also seeing some joining with the astroturf ed-reform folks. As Sue Peters' investigation showed, they were in cahoots with the Alliance and Our Schools Coalition in the improper handling of student and family data for the push poll.

Reminds me of how the Alliance started off with the simple task of fundraising and assisting PTAs with holding funds raised. But then mission creep turned them into policy makers in the district.

Dorothy Neville said...

Remember, voting no on levies is not a big step for some folk. And voting no on school levies is par for the course for between 8 and 13 percent of the registered voters. And this is a supplemental levy, so it is not like the typical school levy.

That said, turnout is not looking that good. As of tonight, only 36% of Seattle registered voters have voted.

Our most plausible scenario for the levy to fail requires a much higher turnout. We won't know until tomorrow.

Anybody else planning to attend the budget workshop?