This weekend a report from the IG’s office, inspired by original reporting from Plunderbund.com, led to the resignation of  Stan Heffner, the top school official in the state. Without question, this was the biggest education story of the weekend. But you’d never know that by reading today’s Dispatch – which ran two other education-related pieces with much bigger headlines on the front page, and also included an editorial by Ben Marrison that completely tries to change the subject.

Greg Mild was the first to uncover Stan Heffner’s glaring conflict of interest problem. He first wrote about it in late May of last year, detailing the the offenses in a post titled “Interim Superintendent of Schools Hides Personal Interest, Deceives Senate.”

No one else picked up the story.

On June 08, 2011 Greg emailed his findings to every member of the Republican-controlled State Senate and key members of the press – including Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison.  The second sentence of his email read: “State Supt Stan Heffner testified to the Finance Committee in favor of including testing by ETS (teacher testing company for Ohio) THREE WEEKS AFTER he signed a contract to work for them.”

Still nothing from the Dispatch.

On July 11, Greg filed an ethics complaint against Heffner.  The next day the Ohio Department of Education hired Heffner as State Superintendent.

Catherine Candisky finally gave Greg’s complaint a quick reference at the end of a piece related to Heffner’s hiring – and also printed Heffner’s response: “… for this blogger to fabricate charges for whatever his agenda is despicable.”  (we’re still waiting for an apology, btw.)

State Rep. Debbie Phillips (D, Athens) filed a similar complaint with the IG’s office a few days later, and the Dispatch gave the charges another quick mention.

That was the beginning, and the end of the Dispatch’s coverage of the Heffner scandal story – a couple of quick quotes in a couple of short stories – until this week.

On Friday, over a year later, the IG finally released a report finding Heffner had, in fact, done exactly what Greg claimed (“fabricated charges”?) but also uncovering a number of other ways in which Heffner had abused his office.

Finally forced to cover the scandal, the Dispatch chose to severely soften their headlines about the IG report.

The fact is: The Dispatch missed the boat on this one completely.  They didn’t pick up the real story when they had the chance.   And they didn’t put any effort into researching Heffner’s violations which, I guess, isn’t too surprising since doing so might have reflected poorly on their dear friends in the Kasich administration.  And when the scandal finally broke, the editors chose to tone down the way the story was presented to readers.

Yesterday afternoon, over 13 months after we first broke the story of Heffner’s violations, he resigned.   This is a big deal.  Certainly the biggest story of the day.

And Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison didn’t miss the chance to write about education scandals.  He used his entire Sunday editorial to take a victory lap, lauding his paper’s in depth reporting in uncovering important scandals at Ohio’s schools.  According to Marrison, “a key indicator of good journalism is that it leads the authorities to investigate and, when necessary, make positive changes.”

Marrison, of course, wasn’t referring to the “good journalism” shown by Plunderbund, or even to the investigation that led to the “positive change” of getting rid of Heffner.

Instead, he was talking about his own paper’s non-stop hammering away at Columbus City Schools for a “scandal” involving the removal of seriously truant students from student rolls which doesn’t appear to be illegal or even against ODE’s own internal rules.  True, the Auditor’s office has started an investigation into the matter.  And we’ll have to see if anyone actually did anything wrong or unethical at ODE or at the individual schools.  But so far we have no results.

And yet Marrison already seems to be calling for resignations, claiming school leaders who don’t value “truth and accountability… should find another line of work.”

It seems a bit early to be taking a victory lap, don’t you think?  Especially when we have a school leader who DID fail to tell the truth and who DID resign this week.  The entire editorial comes across less as praise for his own staff’s investigative and research abilities, and more like he’s telling us: HEY!  LOOK OVER HERE!  THIS IS A BETTER SCANDAL.

It’s unclear if Marrison is trying to change the subject because he and the other conservative Dispatch overlords have no desire to investigate or promote scandals that reflect poorly on their Republican friends.  Or maybe he’s just embarrassed that he got scooped by a bunch of unpaid bloggers.

Either way, we don’t really expect Marrison to recognize our work.  We’re cool with that.  But we would have expected Ben to do the right thing and give the Heffner story its proper due, like the PD’s editorial board did yesterday.   It’s a real story with a real scandal, a completed investigation and serious consequences for the state.   As Marrison states in the last sentence of his piece: “Children learn more from what adults do than what they say.”  We couldn’t agree more.

 

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