(WHAS11) -- With busing in Louisville under intense scrutiny, the JCPS superintendent wants civic leaders to declare their support. But, the top contenders to be Louisville’s next mayor are expressing concerns about the current student assignment plan. Republican Hal Heiner says the plan should be scrapped.
In the face of varying levels of opposition over the years to busing in Louisville, long time Mayor Jerry Abramson has been a steadfast supporter. In fact, Superintendent Sheldon Berman tells the Courier-Journal editorial board that Abramson reiterated that support in a phone call after a Senate bill that challenges the JCPS assignment plan was pre-fileed in Frankfort on Wednesday.
But with Abramson leaving office in four months, Berman is calling on civic leaders and whoever the next mayor is -- to continue that support.
"I want to be really careful about that," Berman said when asked by the Courier-Journal, "because I think that in the end they are in a campaign and have to position themselves in whatever way. I would like to see them come out and support a strong student assignment plan."
I do not support the current student assignment plan," Republican candidate Hal Heiner said, "We need a better plan to achieve the education goals and the diversity goals here in the community."
It is the most direct challenge to JCPS from any Louisville elected official. Heiner says the quality of the schools needs to improve so parents have a good choice that allows for both neighborhood schools and diversity.
"Well the school board obviously controls that," said Democratic mayoral candidate Greg Fischer, when asked about the student assignment plan, "Diversity is important, but it's also really important that kids are not travelling all over the city. Hopefully, we can achieve both objectives. That really is the ideal situation."
While both Fischer and Heiner say there is room for improvement, Heiner has suggestions for immediate changes. Fischer is taking a more measured approach.
"At this point the school year is new," Fischer continued, "They had a rough couple of first days. They've improved beyond that. Let's see where it goes."
Heiner says while Berman stresses that parents do have a choice in student assignment, the reality is much different.
"Today we're in a heavy mandated assignment plan," Heiner said, "What we need to do is we need to accelerate the incentives for parents to choose traditional schools, magnet schools. Accomplish what we need to do in this community so we get to the point that every parent that wants their student to go to a neighborhood school, can."
After the Neighborhood Schools Bill was pre-filed on Wednesday, the JCPS policy immediately became a campaign issue. Senator Dan Seum, who is facing a challenge from Democrat Marty Meyer in southern Jefferson County, co-sponsored the measure. Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville) is also behind the bill. Williams is poised to announce a run for governor, challenging Democratic Governor Steve Beshear and running mate, Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson. While Abramson is expected to draw strong support from his hometown in the 2011 race, the busing issue could provide Williams some support from within Jefferson County.
Heiner says the Neighborhood Schools Bill could be a catalyst for the district to craft a better plan, but he also shares Berman's concern that the bill would jeopardize magnet schools. Williams says he intends to amend the bill to protect magnet and Montessori schools.
Heiner says the magnets "need to be more magnetic" to attract more students, and that those schools are the future of the school system.
"In addition," Heiner said. "I would also recommend (the bill) have a section that says if you're a parent with a child in a failing school, that you have an option out of that. An automatic option out of that school."
Fischer frowns on the bill.
"I think Louisville can figure this out," Fischer said, "That's what the school board is for. I'm not sure we need Frankfort involved with this."
Heiner deflected a question whether the busing issue's entry into the mayoral election interjects race into the race.
"Diversity is an important goal for our community and I support those goals," Heiner replied, "But we need to get there through an incentive program for parents and not a mandated program."
Heiner graduated from Atherton public high school. Fischer graduated from Trinity Catholic high school. Both candidates' children attend private schools, but a few of Heiner's children also have attended public school in the Anchorage system, which is separate from JCPS.