California's charter law has an odd little wrinkle-- as some folks read it, one school district can become the authorizer of a charter school within another school district's boundaries. Yup. I can sit in my district and give Bob's Big Charter School permission to set up shop in your district, to start poaching your students, and start sucking up your public tax dollars.
You can see why the district that's being raided would object. But why would any district want to get involved in some distant charter school?
Meet Steve Van Zant.
Van Zant acquired a BA in English from San Diego State in 1985 and an MS in Education Administration in 1988. He indicates that he started as "an elementary teacher with leadership responsibilities," but in 1991 he stared his first principal job and worked his way up to superintendent in 2006. In 2013 he was hired at his sixth administrative position-- superintendent of Sausalito Marin City School District, a district with deep pockets but a shrinking student body. He's been working there three days a week, but it was at his previous superintendent gig with Mountain Empire Unified School District that Van Zant really hit paydirt.
Van Zant turned into Mountain Empire into a prodigious authorizer of charter schools in other peoples' districts. And then those charters turned around and hired Van Zant's consulting firm to help them run their schools. He would scratch their back, and they would make it rain all over his. Here's how he puts it on his LinkedIn account:
Specialties: I have found my real niche is developing funding sources
for schools and streamlining budgets to allow for increased innovation
and technology upgrades in the classroom. Recently, I have become very
involved with charter schools. I am able to provide new charter schools
with assistance with their proposed authorizing distrct - or help find
an authorizing district for a proposed new charter school. In addition, I
can provide sound advice to charter schools and school districts
regarding issues concerning school finance or charter/ district
The San Diego Superior Court put it differently. Their term was "one felony count of conflict of interest." Van Zant is not in custody, and the case hasn't been settled yet, so throw "allegedly" in wherever it suits you.
The business is called EdHive because reasons. The website is still offering to help charters "make it happen" and touting their ability to "connect you with who you need to know." They also claim that "the team" has over 300 years of experience, although currently "the team" does not appear to have names or faces. And they have a collection of articles all dated from 2012. Van Zant also had a business-related twitter account-- @the_ed_buzz (hive? buzz? get it?) that started in September of 2011 and went dark at the end of December 2012 after a mere 128 tweets.
Critics say that Van Zant's behavior violated the spirit of California's charter law. San Diego is among the districts that have resorted to cease and desist letters to keep the charter vultures at bay, but attempts to rewrite/clarify the law have been unsuccessful to date. Chances are that Van Zant is not the only person in California to figure out how to use the law's vagueness to get rich quickly.