By Cynthia McCabe and Julie Newhall
It was a simultaneously proud but infuriating moment for Ohio Education Association staffer Pam Assenheimer, entering the name of Ohio teacher Jody Scaife as the key 104,000th signature on a statewide petition to overturn a law damaging workers’ rights and public education there.
With the signature from Scaife, the Ohio Education Association met its contribution goal for a larger “We Are Ohio” effort to collect 231,000 signatures statewide by a June 30 deadline.
“It infuriates me to think that the middle class is being targeted,” Assenheimer says of Senate Bill 5. “I do not believe that the budget or state will benefit from the changes in S.B. 5. Ohio’s citizens should have a right to vote on a bill that will result in such dramatic changes.”
The Ohio Education Association is leading a broad-based coalition of Republicans, Democrats, Independents, labor unions, businesses, pastors, workers, employees and other supporters to collect signatures to help overturn S.B. 5. Passed by the Ohio legislature in March and signed into Gov. John Kasich on April 1, the legislation targets workers, their unions and collective bargaining rights. (Read more of EducationVotes.org’s coverage of S.B. 5.)
Once the 231,000-signature requirement is met, it will ensure that the unpopular and dangerous S.B. 5 will go before voters on the November 2011 ballot.
Eighth-grade language arts teacher Kelli Green, a 17-year veteran, is the leading signature-gathering educator in the effort thus far, having tallied 237 on her petitions. Inspired by her mother, a retired teacher, Green gathers signatures and recruits colleagues to do the same as soon as they are done working at school.
The educators and other public education supporters canvass their neighborhoods, family gatherings, bible studies, and children’s sporting events. And they partnered with the local fire department and school bus drivers’ union on petition efforts. They go where the signatures are, sometimes braving thunderstorms and six-hour petition drives.
“I don’t want to look back on this and have any regrets,” Green says. “If something is worth worrying or complaining-about, then it is worth doing something about.”
But her activism in this effort to overturn S.B. 5 is itself also motivated by a regret. Green says she didn’t do as much as she would have liked to do during the 2010 campaign.
“I made excuses,” she says. “I was too busy taking care of my daughters to phone bank, or canvas or do 10-minute meetings. I dropped the ball on that one, and I am paying for it.”
That election ushered in Kasich as governor and he quickly went to work undercutting workers’ rights and slashing education in his budget proposals. He frequently argues that the state is in a budget freefall, with a deficit of $8 billion.
But on Tuesday, Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank headquartered in Columbus, released an analysis showing that the state budget hole is dramatically lower than that $8 billion figure. The Kasich administration routinely cites that number to justify an assault on collective bargaining rights for public employees and their proposed, draconian funding cuts to schools and local governments, when in fact it is overblown by as much as $3 billion, according to Innovation Ohio.