National Firm To Lead Hunt For Ohio Education Boss

Stan Heffner, soon after being named Ohio Schools Superintendent in 2011.(Photo: Ida Lieszkovszky, State Impact Ohio)
Stan Heffner, soon after being named Ohio Schools Superintendent in 2011.(Photo: Ida Lieszkovszky, State Impact Ohio)

The Ohio school board opted Monday to conduct a thorough national search for a new state superintendent after the former top education official resigned amid ethical questions about his work for an educational testing contractor.
The 19-member Ohio Board of Education voted unanimously to have its executive committee interview search firms and bring a recommendation to the board. They set a committee meeting for Thursday.

“I think we cast a wide net,” Board President Debe Terhar said.

The vote followed a two-hour executive session on the replacement of former Superintendent Stan Heffner. He resigned Aug. 4 after a state watchdog’s investigation found that he was on the payroll of a private Texas-based firm when he lobbied state lawmakers last year on a bill that benefited the company.

Heffner had been leading the department since May 2011, when Deborah Delisle left the job under pressure from newly elected Republican Gov. John Kasich. Delisle was the preferred pick of Kasich’s predecessor, Democrat Ted Strickland.

The board’s plan for proceeding leaves the Ohio Department of Education in the hands of Acting Superintendent Michael Sawyers, who’s been in charge since Heffner resigned.

Terhar said Monday’s decision did not signal a lack of confidence in Sawyers. After taking the Education Department’s helm, Sawyers admitted he misused a district credit card for more than $800 in personal purchases when he led Perry Local Schools in northeast Ohio.

Board member Mary Rose Oakar of Cleveland said using a professional firm to plot the board’s next move is wise even if Sawyers is ultimately selected for the job.

“It’s a natural move up for him, and he may indeed apply for the job,” Oakar said. “In fairness to him, with everything that’s going on, it’s the best thing to do.”

It could be months before the selection process is complete.

Inspector General Randall Meyer’s investigation also found that Heffner used his state-paid executive secretary and state email and cellphone accounts for travel and a new home purchase related to a job he had landed at ETS. He canceled plans to take the job when he was named interim superintendent in Ohio last year.

Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien is reviewing Meyer’s report for potential legal violations.