Ballot question would prioritize teacher evaluations over tenure in hiring

A major ad campaign produced by the backers of a ballot initiative that would prioritize teacher evaluations over seniority in hiring, firing and tenure decisions hit the airwaves Monday morning.

The ad features citizens from Chestnut Hill, Lowell, Brighton, Framingham and at least one public school teacher from Winchester declaring that they “stand for children,” a reference to the advocacy group Stand for Children, which is pushing the ballot initiative.

“For almost a decade Stand for Children has brought together students, parents and teachers across Massachusetts to work together for change so every child has the best education with great teachers and great schools,” the participants say during the 30-second spot.

Voters could be forgiven if after hearing the ad they did not know the campaign had anything to do with a significant public policy question they could be asked to settle in November.

The ad uses the buzzwords for the ballot campaign “great teachers and great schools,” but makes no reference to the ballot drive, instead directing people interested in joining the group to its website,, where more information is available.

“It is the beginning of the campaign, a grand building exercise laying the foundation for a message that the campaign will be built off of. It’s significant in its scope and reach. It’s the way you build a statewide organization for a campaign like this,” said Dan Cence, the political consultant who crafted the video.

Though Cence declined to say how much Stand for Children spent on the ad campaign, he called it a “significant investment” for ads that will run for five weeks on statewide broadcast and cable television channels, local TV, radio, newspapers and online.

Stand for Children is a national organization based in Portland, Oregon with a presence in nine states. Its advisory board includes officials from Bain Capital, Fidelity Investments, Fisher Lynch Capital and other businesses.

The proposed ballot question is one of four headed to the ballot in November. If approved, schools would have to create or adopt model teacher evaluation standards that would take precedence in decisions to hire, grant professional teacher status, transfer, promote, demote, lay off or dismiss teachers.

Under the proposed new law, seniority and experience would become secondary factors to merit and ability when school administrators make decisions about hiring, transfers and layoffs, and teacher evaluation systems would become mandatory for all school districts.

“It takes a long time and a lot of momentum to build up a statewide campaign and this is how you start it,” Cence said.

Before the ad wars begin, the Massachusetts Teachers Association has already moved to block the ballot initiative by filing a lawsuit in January against Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of State William Galvin challenging the constitutionality of the ballot question for being too broad and restricting the court’s ability to review teacher arbitration cases.

The lawsuit seeks to reverse Coakley’s certification of the ballot initiative, and would bar Galvin from placing the question on the ballot in November.

Question opponents and the Patrick administration have suggested that new regulations approved in June by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education tightening teacher evaluation standards and linking performance to student achievement, particularly in underperforming schools, should be given time to be fully implemented and evaluated for their effectiveness.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Paul Toner has argued that Massachusetts education policies already include consequences for teachers who receive poor evaluations and last year called the question an “abuse of the ballot initiative process.””Our problem has been a failure of supervision and administration in the evaluation process,” Toner told the News Service last year, as the initiative petition campaign was getting started. “There’s plenty of teeth in the new regulations we have. Our major problem with evaluations in Massachusetts is people haven’t been doing them regularly and consistently across the state.”

In its complaint to the Supreme Judicial Court challenging the question’s ballot eligibility, the initiative’s opponents claimed it affects the power of the courts and that Coakley’s four-page petition summary fails to inform voters of ways the question, if adopted, would impair collective bargaining rights. The plaintiffs include three recent “teachers of the year,” a Boston public school parent, a teacher evaluation expert and a member of the Scituate School Committee.

In a report to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the Committee for Excellence in Education reported raising and spending $365,573 in 2011, ending the year with a zero balance after spending on legal consultants and signature gathering. All of the committee’s donations came from Stand for Children, Inc., based in Oregon.

The Stand for Children MA political action committee reported no expenditures and a balance of $55,000 at the end of 2011, financed entirely by William Helman, a partner at the Cambridge venture capital firm Greylock Partners and Mike Kennealy, a Lexington resident and managing director at Spectrum Equity.