Just when you thought you had heard every possible charter scam, up pops a new twist.
Steve Van Zant, the superintendent of a tiny two-school district, was charged with violating conflict-of-interest laws for helping charters win authorization, then getting them to hire his consulting firm.
California has one of the most permissive charter laws in the nation, approved when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor and the state board of education was packed with charter advocates like Reed Hastings. Districts can authorize charters in other districts and get a commission.
“A former San Diego County superintendent who approved charter schools that later hired his consulting firm was arraigned Friday in San Diego Superior Court on one felony count of conflict of interest, according to the San Diego district attorney’s office.
“The allegation facing Steve Van Zant, who currently is superintendent of the Sausalito Marin City School District, dates to May 2010 while he was superintendent of the Mountain Empire Unified School District.
“According to the criminal complaint, Van Zant “did willfully and unlawfully violate the provisions of such (conflict of interest) laws.”
“Van Zant, who is not in custody, could not be reached for comment. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.
“The District Attorney’s Office declined to provide details of the case.
“Van Zant, 53, has been a controversial figure among San Diego County educators. Long before he faced legal troubles, Van Zant stirred animosity among school districts for years as he brokered deals with charter schools to operate in their districts — often without providing the notice required by law.
“Some of the charters that Van Zant ushered through soon hired his consulting firm for support services.
“Van Zant worked in the tiny one-campus Dehesa School District, where the school board authorized several charters to operate in other districts, before he was hired to run Mountain Empire schools in 2008.
“Under Van Zant’s direction, Mountain Empire authorized its first charter, San Diego Neighborhood Homeschool. Roughly a dozen more followed before he left in 2013.”
No doubt, Van Zant was acting with high intentions, helping poor kids escape failing schools.
Alternative explanation: A scam.
Step right up and get your charter school!