Back in spring, John Kasich replaced Ohio’s schools superintendent with a veteran administrator with ties to Northeast Ohio. Stan Heffner’s résumé includes a 15-year stint as the boss at Madison Local Schools in Lake County. Since 2004, he’s been an associate superintendent for the state Board of Education, in charge of how public schools measure their success.
Given his expertise, it was no surprise that Heffner’s testimony in a May Senate hearing on Ohio’s budget bill featured a new twist: support for a proposal that all teachers in failing schools be required to retake their certification tests. He was all for it.
What wasn’t so widely noticed was that Heffner had already made plans to move on after his interim position. His next stop: Senior executive for Educational Testing Service, Ohio’s one-stop-shop for standardized testing.
“This is the testing company that Ohio teachers have been required to use for years,” says Greg Mild, a Columbus teacher who has filed a complaint over Heffner’s appointment with the Ohio Ethics Commission. “Having been with the Department of Education, he has no excuse for not knowing this is the sole source provider for these Ohio tests. Legally, I don’t know if he violated ethics rules. Personally, I think he did.”
At least one state legislator agrees. Representative Debbie Phillips of Athens has asked the state inspector general to investigate Heffner’s potential conflict of interest. As schools across the state resume this week, neither the Ethics Commission nor the inspector general has commented on the status of those requests.
But last month, Heffner fired up a curveball. Although he had not been in the running for the job, he was appointed permanent state superintendent at the last minute after two of the three top candidates withdrew. Heffner’s reason for the late arrival: The remaining candidate was not from Ohio, and he felt the position should go to someone more familiar with the state.
Scene’s request for an interview with Heffner was met with a statement in which he made his case for being wonderful. “I stand firm in my commitment to the position and appreciate the faith placed in me by the state Board,” he said. “I am confident that I have no conflict of interest and am working to move the Ohio Department of Education forward. I am committed to full transparency and welcome ongoing review.”
Heffner’s words don’t allay the concerns of Mild and Phillips, who cite Ohio’s rich tapestry of corruption as reason enough to probe under every rock.
“The public’s trust in public servants has been damaged over the years by various scandals,” says Phillips. “I think that leads to cynicism and a decrease in participation. I think the appearance of conflict feeds into that loss of civic participation.” — Anastasia Pantsios