Created on Monday, 11 March 2013 Written by JULIE CARR SMYTH,AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Tens of thousands of dollars spent on a national search have gotten Ohio's state school board little farther than a city block in its search for the state's next schools chief.
On Tuesday, the State Board of Education is poised to conclude its second superintendent's search in as many years with a choice between two finalists: Acting State Superintendent Michael Sawyers, and Richard Ross, top education adviser to Gov. John Kasich.
Final interviews were scheduled for Monday, a day ahead of the expected vote by the 19-member board.
Two years ago, after Superintendent Deborah Delisle left the job under political pressure, a search for her replacement ended in the surprise pick of Interim Superintendent Stan Heffner — after several candidates, including another Kasich education adviser, dropped out of the running.
Heffner ended up resigning amid ethical questions about his relationship with an educational testing contractor. Inspector General Randall Meyer found he had used state email and cellphone accounts to land the job with the testing firm, assigned his state-paid executive secretary to book flights related to the job hunt and used state equipment to send documents for his new home purchase in Texas.
Ostensibly to avoid another embarrassing incident, the bipartisan board voted unanimously to involve a professional consultant. They hired Ray and Associates Inc. in a contract worth more than $42,000 in fees and estimated expenses.
Thirty candidates applied for the job of leading the Ohio Department of Education and overseeing education policy in America's seventh-largest state. Applicants hailed from 14 U.S. states, New Zealand and Bangkok.
A search committee appointed by Board President Debe Terhar narrowed the field to four, then to the two men perhaps most familiar to the board.
It's an outcome that looks very similar to the last search.
That hunt in 2011 was nationwide in scope but did not involve the help of a consultant.
Heffner, serving in a temporary capacity as Sawyers is now, was the board's surprise pick after three other candidates — including Kasich's then-chief education adviser Robert Sommers — dropped out.
Sommers was advised at the time that his ability to do the job would be limited because of a state ethics laws that prevented him from having contact with the governor's office for a year. That law has since been amended so that Ross would not face a similar restriction.
Both Sawyers and Ross have risen to the top of the list despite some baggage.
Sawyers misused a district credit card for more than $800 in personal purchases, including alcohol, when he was superintendent of Perry Local Schools in northeast Ohio. Sawyers has said he mistook the district card for his personal credit card. He repaid the money and was reprimanded by the district in 2010.
Ross was convicted of drunken driving in 2009. He pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated in a July 3 incident north of Columbus, paid a $450 fine and had his license suspended for six months. A 3-day jail sentence was suspended, according to Delaware County court records.