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Ohio State Superintendent Stan Heffner Resigns Amid Ethics Charges, Attendance Rigging Investigation

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Saturday, August 4, 2012 at 7:04 PM

Stan Heffner is Ohio's Superintendent of Public Instruction until Friday.

Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner publicly announced his resignation Saturday in the face of growing public criticism of ethics violations.

His resignation comes amid an ongoing statewide investigation into school districts' changing student attendance and enrollment data to boost their state ratings.

In a written statement, Heffner said he was resigning to prevent "opponents of reform to be able to twist mistakes I’ve made into roadblocks to Ohio’s reform efforts."

Heffner's resignation comes two days after the state Inspector General released a report saying Heffner was wrong to testify last year in favor of legislation that benefited a private education company for which Heffner planned to work.

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The Inspector General's report said 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 also says that Heffner used his state computer, email account and cell phone to communicate about that job with people at Educational Testing Service, one of the nation’s largest testing companies.

Heffner told ETS staff to send correspondence to his state email account because he "can't access my personal e-mail when I'm away from home."

Heffner also had his Ohio Department of Education administrative assistant handle tasks and paperwork related to his new job, according to the report.

Inspector General's Office spokesman Carl Enslen wrote in an email earlier today that "all the prosecuting authorities having any jurisdiction for pursuing criminal violations were immediately informed at the time the report was released or were engaged during the course of the investigation."

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said in a written statement that Heffner should face a criminal investigation:

"Instead of permitting Heffner to pick his own day of departure, Governor Kasich should finally show some leadership by calling for a criminal investigation, firing Heffner, and prohibiting him from collecting another $4500 from Ohio taxpayers."

The accusations against Heffner were initially reported in May 2011 by liberal blog Plunderbund. State Rep. Debbie Phillips (D, Athens) filed a complaint regarding them with the inspector general in July 2011.

Separately, the state auditor is investigating what the auditor calls "attendance rigging" at schools statewide. That investigation will look at why the Ohio Department of Education apparently didn't do anything about the attendance rigging until a series of stories in the Columbus Dispatch this spring.

Heffner was appointed interim state superintendent after the resignation of former state superintendent Deborah Delisle in May 2011. Two months later, the State Board of Education appointed him as the permanent state superintendent, a role he officially started in August 2011.

Emails show that Heffner was hoping to be named to the state superintendent's post in March, but was at the time only offered the interim superintendent's post by state Board of Education President Debe Terhar.

Heffner, a former school superintendent, had served in other Ohio Department of Education roles since 2004.

Heffner's resignation is effective at 5 p.m. on Friday. Under the department's succession plan, Deputy Superintendent Michael Sawyers will take over Heffner's duties until the state Board of Education names a new state superintendent.

The board is scheduled to meet next in September. But, even before Heffner's resignation was announced, some board members said the board should meet sooner:
"Simply put, six weeks is too long to wait," [board member Kristen McKinley] said in a statement. "Would an employer wait six weeks to address discipline of an employee for this type of infraction in any other scenario? I think not."
Heffner told ETS officials last year that working for the testing company and serving as state superintendent were "tied for first place" in his mind. In an internal email, one ETS official described a conversation with Heffner:

"His tone when he speaks about ETS is brighter than when he speaks about the state position. He is uncertain if he will enjoy the party-line politics that are at play in Ohio."

Written Statements

State Superintendent Stan Heffner

"Much needed components underway in Ohio’s schools are too important to let anything get in their way.  Because I don’t want opponents of reform to be able to twist mistakes I’ve made into roadblocks to Ohio’s reform efforts, I’m stepping aside to deny them even the chance of doing that.  Under the State Board of Education’s succession plan, starting at 5:00 pm on Friday, August 10, Michael Sawyers, Deputy Superintendent, will begin leading the Department of Education until the Board names a new state superintendent.

I’ve loved working with my friends and colleagues at the Department.  I think they’re some of the smartest, hardest-working and compassionate people I’ve ever met.  I wish them every success in following through with the improvements we’ve set in motion to help all of Ohio’s kids.  In my 38 years in this profession, I’ve always put the best interests of students ahead of the desires of adults and the complacency of institutions, and that includes me."

State Board of Education President Debe Terhar

"I am saddened by Superintendent Heffner’s resignation for retirement. His courage and enthusiasm have launched many needed improvements in the Department of Education, particularly a renewed emphasis on children as the center of our education system, as well as specific programs to improve educational opportunities for every student in Ohio.

Because he is so focused on children and their best interest, he is stepping aside so that those who might use him to resist needed change in Ohio education policy will be unable to deter continuing progress. I support his decision and believe that it was made in the best interest of Ohio’s children. I wish him the best of luck in all of his future endeavors.”

Gov. John Kasich

"Stan's decision to retire is the right one.  His mistakes in judgment were unfortunate, but I respect him for always putting Ohio's students above everything else, including his own interests.  Thanks to his leadership I believe the Department is better positioned to achieve the school reforms Ohio needs to improve student success.  As we move forward, it's essential that a new superintendent be both an experienced leader and an effective advocate for the school improvements Ohio's kids and teachers need, and I look forward to supporting the Board any way I can in their process."

Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern

"It’s incredibly alarming that Governor John Kasich elevated Stan Heffner to Superintendent after these allegations of illegal activity first arose, and he continues to act as if the allegations of theft in office, pay to play, and perjury are no big deal.

If it weren’t for the Governor playing politics and forcing the former Superintendent from office in the first place, Stan Heffner may never have had the opportunity to commit these alleged illegal acts. But throughout this entire process, Governor Kasich has turned a blind eye to the corruption in his administration.

Heffner has already collected over $220,000 since the day he first committed these very serious alleged illegal acts, and now the Governor is allowing him to collect even more. Instead of permitting Heffner to pick his own day of departure, Governor Kasich should finally show some leadership by calling for a criminal investigation, firing Heffner, and prohibiting him from collecting another $4500 from Ohio taxpayers. Ohioans have already foot the bill for this corruption for too long, it's insulting of the Governor to make Ohioans pay Heffner for another week."

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