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Class size measure's foes air TV ad

Opponents paint a scary picture of schools if Amendment 9 is successful at the polls.

By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002

Opponents paint a scary picture of schools if Amendment 9 is successful at the polls.

The campaign against the proposed class size amendment has taken to the airwaves with a 30-second ad that ominously predicts dire consequences if the popular initiative passes.

The opposition campaign still is scrambling to raise money so it can run the ad across the state and get more air play in the expensive South Florida television market.

"We just got started on Sunday," said Cory Tilley, spokesman for the Coalition to Protect Florida. "We're not yet in every market in the state, but as we get more money over the next few days we hope to get it in other markets."

The ad is the most visible effort so far of a coalition formed to kill the amendment. Though Gov. Jeb Bush often speaks of his opposition to Amendment 9, and coalition members have repeatedly said it would be too costly, the opposition is only now taking its message to a large audience.

The ad mixes spooky images with foreboding quotes pulled from newspapers.

"The class size amendment sounded great until we learned that it could cost us billions," the voice of a woman says. The screen shows a large black and white image of a checkbook, as a person writes out a check for $3,830, and in the background an elderly man looks up with a concerned frown.

The voice continues with, "cuts school programs we thought were untouchable," while showing a classroom of children playing musical instruments and suddenly the children disappear out of the chairs.

The ad ends with a shot of four young students staring into the camera, and the voice says, "Say no to Amendment 9 because if it passes, how will we ever explain it to them?"

The ad makes no mention of the state's official $27.5-billion cost estimate, which the opposition has repeatedly cited. Tilley said that wasn't because of a strategy but because the campaign wanted to make several other points in a tight time frame.

Those promoting the amendment said Tuesday that the ad is in keeping with the rest of the campaign.

"They've been trying to scare the voters all along," said Damien Filer, spokesman for the Coalition to Reduce Class Sizes. Taking a cue from the last line of the ad, Filer said, "How are we going to ever explain it to them if we don't pass it?"

Tilley's group reported raising $175,000 during the last reporting period, but has raised more since then. The coalition might not be able to afford to run the ad as often or in as many markets as it would like. So far the ad has run in the Tampa Bay area, Orlando, Jacksonville and some other markets, but has seen little air play in South Florida.

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