Records shed light on Ohio superintendent odyssey
JULIE CARR SMYTH
COLUMBUS — Stan Heffner celebrated his new $180,000 private sector job over $10 cocktails, escargot, and oysters at San Antonio’s swanky Tost Bistro Bar in the spring of 2011.
Heffner, who was at the time Ohio’s interim schools superintendent, dined with John Oswald, vice president of Educational Testing Service, a leading national test developer, and Oswald’s wife, Rosalie. The three were toasting Heffner’s future as senior leader for K-12 assessment at the company and his upcoming move to Texas.
Heffner’s flight to Texas had been coordinated by his executive secretary at the Ohio Department of Education, Carolyn Jones, while she was on state time, according to a state investigative files reviewed by The Associated Press. Jones also coordinated other air travel related to his job hunt and sent paperwork using state equipment for his purchase of a Texas home, records show.
Heffer gave up the new job when he was named Ohio’s permanent superintendent last July but before that — and after he accepted the job with ETS — Heffner testified as interim superintendent on a bill before the Ohio Senate with the potential to benefit Educational Testing Service, according to a report issued by Inspector General Randall Meyer.
Heffner issued a public apology and then resigned on Aug. 4 in the wake of Meyer’s findings. Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien is reviewing the case for potential legal violations, and the Ohio Board of Education is likely to name an interim replacement Monday.
Ohio law prohibits state employees from using state time and equipment for personal business. Heffner told Meyer’s investigators during his interview that Jones, his executive secretary, “was very gracious and — on offering to be of help.” She was not a target of the probe.
“The woman is incredible,” Heffner told investigators, noting that he would ask Jones to “sandwich into the schedule” a few days to look for a house and she would book Heffner’s flights using his personal credit card information.
Asked if he had any concerns about using his public office in such a way, Heffner said, “I wasn’t thrilled about it, and I didn’t know how else to do it.”
Kat Arohnson, a head hunter with an executive search firm in Boston, had worked the deal between Heffner and ETS for months, according to investigative documents.
Arohnson began communicating with Heffner, sometimes through Jones, in the fall of 2010 often using his state email and cellphone. Jones worked onto Heffner’s schedule a trip to ETS’ Princeton, N.J., offices in December 2010.
Heffner accepted the ETS job in April. Meanwhile, Heffner and others at Ohio’s Education Department were preparing testimony for him to deliver in the state Senate on May 11, 2011 — a week before his dinner with Oswald.
He told investigators Oswald didn’t want anything from him in his capacity as interim Ohio superintendent.
“Which I was grateful for that ‘cause I thought I don’t know how — it’s a full-time job and a half doing what I do, let alone thinking I’m going to somehow moonlight or anything for them,” Heffner told investigators.
But state investigators found that Heffner communicated with ETS on several issues in which the company had a business interest during the period.
The Ohio inspector general found reasonable cause that “wrongful acts or omissions” occurred in the case. He gave the state school board 60 days to respond.
Heffner told investigators that he had told state school board president Debe Terhar about his plans to work for ETS, and alerted her and other board members to a blog reporting his ties to ETS before he was offered the full-time superintendent’s job.
The board did an abrupt turnaround in July 2011 when it hired Heffner to stay on permanently in his interim role.
Heffner told investigators his hiring came after “a 48-hour period I would never in a million years had guessed was going to happen to me.”
During that time, Heffner learned that the board’s favored superintendent candidate was dropping out of the running and that there was a problem with the lone remaining contender for the job. So he put his own name in for the job.
He got the job, pulled out of the ETS job, and put the brakes on a home purchase in Texas that was within 24 hours of closing. He said he lost thousands of dollars on the real estate decision, and reimbursed ETS for some of the expenses it had incurred.