Investigation Reveals Ethics Problems for Ohio Superintendent

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 02, 2012 2 min read
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It has been a difficult period for public schools in the Buckeye State. First, State Auditor Dave Yost announced that he would lead a broad investigation into whether several districts in Ohio altered their school attendance records in order to eliminate the results of low-performing students.

Now, an investigation by the state inspector general has revealed that Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan W. Heffner had agreed to work for the Princeton, N.J.-Educational Testing Service at the same time that he advocated for the company’s tests to be used in written testimony to the state senate last year while serving as interim superintendent. The investigation revealed that Heffner listed his start date at ETS as Aug. 1, 2011, but in fact had signed an employment agreement with ETS that April, before submitting his testimony.

A report released today by Inspector General Randall Meyer said the state Board of Education should consider taking action against Mr. Heffner, according to the Associated Press. Meyer also reported that Mr. Heffner, as interim superintendent, used his executive secretary to handle personal business, such as mailing his employment application to ETS and helping him to buy a new home in Texas. (Mr. Heffner eventually did not take the job at ETS, in order to become Ohio’s permanent superintendent.)

Debe Terhar, the chairwoman of the state school board, said she believes the board would act on Mr. Meyer’s findings in September. While she praised Heffner as a “dedicated educator” she also said Heffner displayed “a woeful lack of judgment.”

Mr. Heffner, in turn, apologized and said he had learned from his “mistakes” and would accept any punishment from the state board.

You can read the full report here. Additional details in Meyer’s report are that at the time of his testimony to the senate, Heffner, while interim superintendent, had negotiated his contract with ETS; signed an offer sheet; allowed ETS to pay for out-of-state travel when he met with ETS officials; and “took time from attending an out-of-state conference on behalf of [the Ohio Department of Education] to meet with ETS officials.” The report notes that the bill Heffner gave testimony to support (and which would have benefited ETS) would have increased testing for Ohio teachers.

“Heffner failed to meet the standards of proper governmental conduct as are commonly accepted in the community and subverts the process of government,” the report stated.

In an interview with Meyer’s office, Heffner said that he had “limited” contact with ETS during the period in question and that ETS had a “hands-off” approach when it came to Heffner’s position in Ohio. He also seemed to downplay the involvement of his staff in arranging personal matters, although he acknowledged that his secretary might have taken “some calls” related to his planned purchase of a home in Texas.

But two secretaries who spoke to Meyer’s office indicated that on several occasions they helped Heffner take care of personal business. One of the secretaries said that while she was in “disbelief” that he was asking her to take care of such personal business, “My only option was to do what he needed and try to do it well so he, you know, so he would, so he would keep me.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.