Two weeks after criticizing Republican mayoral candidate Hal Heiner for injecting the Jefferson County Public Schools student assignment plan into the mayor's race, Democrat Greg Fischer has launched a campaign ad of his own, saying, "we've got to fix the student assignment plan."
In a campaign ad that began airing on September 23, Heiner calls for an end to the current plan - saying bus rides are too long and that too many schools are failing. At the time, Fischer said Heiner's ad was inappropriate.
"This is a job for the school board," Fischer said, "The mayor doesn't control the system, so by politicizing our kids six weeks before a political race I think it shows poor leadership."
The Louisville Metro Mayor has no authority over schools or busing policy. Yet, to the extent that the mayor can influence changes in the school district, both frontrunners are now making busing and education policy key issues in the race.
"I'm frustrated with the lack of progress in too many of our schools," Fischer says in the new ad, "If our kids are going to compete, they have to get a first rate education. And, we've got to fix the student assignment plan. Our schools have got to do better."
Asked if he was now also politicizing kids in the mayoral race, Fischer said, "No. Not at all. I'm offering to help. That's a big difference than my opponent who says 'end' and 'scrap' without consulting the school board or talking to the community leaders and just springing a commercial on the community."
Fischer said he had called JCPS to inform the school district that his ad was about to be released.
"It follows a pattern we've seen throughout this campaign," Heiner responded.
Heiner suggests that when Fischer's polling showed that voters were agreeing with Heiner's stance on student assignment, Fischer copied Heiner's idea.
"We've seen it on bridges, transparency, a whole host of matters, and now we see it on education," Heiner said.
While Heiner has said that he only wants to scrap the current student assignment plan and replace it with a better one that still maintains diversity, Fischer says Heiner's campaign materials imply a much more drastic fate for student assignment.
"My opponent can't have it both ways," Fischer said. "He can't go up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in TV time and say 'end.' He can't send out direct mail to the whole community and say 'scrap' and 'end,' and now say, 'well he didn't really mean that.' We know what he meant."
Fischer adds that after Heiner made it an issue - voters deserved to hear his side too.
"It needed to be highlighted in this campaign," Heiner said, "The outcomes in our school system are not acceptabvle in a great city. and we have to do better. That's why we highlighted it."
Last Monday, WHAS11 News asked Fischer if he would change his approach on the issue based on his poll results.
"The leadership issues here are how you work within existing structure because the mayor is separate from Jefferson County Public Schools," Fischer said at that time.
Fischer has said in the past that Heiner should not meddle in what is a school board matter, and insisted today that he is being consistent because Heiner has taken a destructive approach to the issue while he has taken a constructive approach.
"Let's be really clear on this," Fischer said, "It's a big difference. When you call for, when my opponent calls for the elimination, the scrapping, the ending, that's a huge difference than me saying I'd like to help. I'd like to help fix something."
Heiner bristled at Fischer's implication, saying that he has shown leadership by bringing the issue to the forefront of the campaign.
"My goal has been from the beginning that we need to fix the failed outcomes in the schools," Heiner said.