I earlier reported that Steve Van Zant, superintendent of a small district, had been charged with conflict of interest for helping districts authorize charters in other districts (which is legal under California law), then getting contracts with the charters for his private business.
Now, crack reporter Maureen Magee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports the story (reprinted in the Los Angeles Times):
By the time Steve Van Zant left the Mountain Empire Unified School District in 2013, he had overseen the authorization of more than a dozen charter schools to operate in other districts throughout San Diego County — with several going on to hire his education consulting firm.
All the while, Van Zant coached at least one other district on how to approve out-of-town charters, according to emails obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune. As more districts approved far-flung charters, Van Zant’s EdHive consultant business took on some of the schools as clients.
The San Diego district attorney’s office arraigned Van Zant on Jan. 15 on a felony conflict-of-interest charge from an undisclosed incident in May 2010 while he was superintendent of Mountain Empire.
The district attorney’s office declined to disclose details of its investigation, and it is unclear whether the charge relates to his work with charter schools. According to the criminal complaint, Van Zant violated laws that prohibited him “from being financially interested in contracts made by him in his official capacity.”
The Union-Tribune has tracked a charter empire built by Van Zant by taking advantage of what some call a shortcoming in state law that gives districts a financial incentive to place charters in other school districts. By placing charters outside its boundaries, a district can raise new funds — up to 3 percent of a charter’s revenue — without any threat to enrollment or state attendance funds.
More than 80 out-of-district charters have been approved in San Diego County, the vast majority of which were authorized by small East County districts — several with help from Van Zant, who includes a list of charter clients on his LinkedIn professional network profile…
When Van Zant accepted the job in 2013 as superintendent of the Sausalito Marin City School District, he was positioned to devote even more time growing his consulting business. He would commute from his Mission Bay home for the three-day-a-week position in Northern California with a starting salary of $165,000 and still run EdHive, which recently opened an office in Symphony Towers in downtown San Diego…
California secretary of state documents show that Van Zant’s wife, interior designer Ingrid Van Zant, registered the corporation in 2011. Steve Van Zant listed himself as both president and vice president of EdHive in 2015 on financial disclosure forms filed with Marin County
After leaving Mountain Empire in the summer of 2013, Van Zant helped usher through another charter in the Pine Valley-based district.
You are a charter God. Like Matt Damon in ‘Good Will Hunting.’ – Former Alpine Superintendent Tom Pellegrino in an email to Van Zant
The former superintendent personally petitioned the Mountain Empire school board to authorize the County Collaborative Charter School. Van Zant would go on to serve as director, and he listed his EdHive consulting firm as the provider of back-office services in charter petition documents.
By soliciting business from the district so quickly after leaving office in Mountain Empire, Van Zant has raised questions about whether he violated the Political Reform Act, which calls for a one-year “cooling off” period before government officials can lobby their agencies — or do business with them — after leaving.
The County Collaborative charter enrolled 201 students in the 2014-15 school year, and lists Van Zant’s downtown San Diego EdHive office as the school’s address on a California Department of Education website. Van Zant is listed as the charter’s director, a position missing from financial disclosure documents filed in Marin after taking office in Sausalito.