Ohio Picks Heffner as New State Schools Superintendent

By Sean Cavanagh — July 12, 2011 2 min read
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Ohio’s state board of education, in an unexpected move, selected the state’s interim superintendent of public instruction, Stan W. Heffner, to fill the job on a permanent basis.

He replaces Deborah Delisle, who resigned earlier this year under what she said was pressure from the office of Republican Gov. John Kasich.

Heffner was not initially thought to be a contender for the job. But this week, the state board decided to interview him, after taking a favorable view of his work as the fill-in for the top post, according to the state department of education.

Ohio officials received 40 letters of interest in the position and interviewed eight candidates. A top adviser to Kasich, Robert Sommers, took himself out of the running recently, citing worries that state ethics laws would interfere with his ability to do the job. After another candidate, Steve Dackin, dropped out, reportedly the only remaining candidate was Robert Schiller, the former state schools superintendent in Illinois.

“Stan Heffner has done a terrific job as interim superintendent, and we are delighted he will continue to provide us with strong leadership,” state board President Debe Terhar said in a statement.

Heffner will lead a system that serves 1.8 million students. Ohio was a $400 million winner in the federal Race to the Top competition last year, and the state is taking on the tricky task of making good on the promises in its plan, an effort that could present Heffner with a lot of tough decisions.

Kasich has angered many teachers through his support for a controversial measure to cut their collective bargaining rights, which could create another challenge for Heffner. Many local school officials have also objected to the governor’s budget, which reduces funding for schools. Kasich has argued that the changes to collective bargaining will save districts, and taxpayers, money over time.

Heffner was heavily involved in efforts to improve the state’s curriculum and instruction, department officials say, and he has also played a role in Ohio’s work, along with many other states, in implementing common standards.

He began his career as a teacher in South Dakota, and he later became the state’s youngest high school principal. He also served as South Dakota’s deputy secretary of education and cultural affairs. According to his bio, Heffner had planned to join the Educational Testing Service upon completing his work as interim superintendent, to work as a senior executive with the organization’s new K-12 multistate assessment programs group.

Now, his career is going in a different direction.

UPDATE: The liberal blog Plunderbund says that it has filed a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission, alleging that Heffner, in testimony given before a legislative committee, supported a teacher-testing policy that would have benefited ETS financially.

(Here’s a link to the legislative hearing in question, on May 11.)

The ethics commission would not confirm that it has received a complaint. But Heffner strongly denied any wrongdoing, when questioned by Ohio reporters.

“There is no quid pro quo,” he told the Associated Press Tuesday. “The type of work I was going to do with ETS is student assessments. These are teacher assessments. It’s a completely different division. I would have had nothing to do with it.”

Heffner said he has not handled ETS contracts in his work for the state. “I have done nothing with it,” he said. “So for this blogger to fabricate charges for whatever his agenda, I think, is despicable.”

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