One of the founders of a charter school authorizer has resigned because, he says, the former leader of TiZA schools exerts too much influence over his organization.
Bryan Rossi, who led Novation Educational Opportunities since its inception in 2009, quit in protest of Asad Zaman's ties to the organization.
Zaman led the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, or TiZA, which had schools in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine and was accused of teaching Islam and giving tax dollars to religious groups in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.
"In my opinion, Mr. Zaman has the ability to exert too much control over the organization," Rossi said. "It appears that he does have a leadership role and that concerns me."
Reach by phone Thursday, Sept. 6, Zaman refused to discuss his relationship with Novation.
Under an agreement to settle a three-year court battle with the ACLU, Zaman was barred for three years from serving as an "officer, director or administrator of a Minnesota public charter school."
The lawsuit accused Zaman of marketing TiZA as an Islamic school and funneling tax money meant to educate students to the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.
Paula Forbes, Novation's interim director after Rossi's departure, said Zaman once was a Novation "member" but now has no role with the group. Forbes also briefly served as a Novation board member.
"He has no voting power and no executive authority to make decisions over anyone in the organization," Forbes said.
Zaman remains a consultant with Designs for Learning, which advises and provides other services to charter schools, Forbes said.
She described him as "a brilliant man who understands charter school law" and was key to Novation's founding.
"There is nothing in that agreement that says he cannot have a conversation with us or consult with us," Forbes said. "If we wanted to, we could make him a member of the board or a consultant and it would not be in violation."
Forbes did not agree with Rossi that Zaman had influence over Novation. She said she did not understand why Rossi quit.
"He could have worked there as long as he wanted; I can speak for the board on that," she said.
Under a Minnesota law, charter schools must have a state-approved authorizer that is responsible for oversight. The Minnesota Department of Education also oversees whenever an authorizer opens a new school or program. Authorizers are reviewed every five years.
The Education Department approved Novation's 58-page application in May 2010. Novation authorizes 15 schools, including BlueSky Online, which the state tried to close for failing to meet curriculum standards.
Zaman's connection to Novation does not appear to directly violate the court settlement. But given the findings that surfaced during the legal battle between TiZA and the ACLU, Rossi said he couldn't continue at Novation with Zaman's involvement.
"I'm very disappointed," Rossi said, "in light of the case involving TiZA."
Chuck Samuelson, attorney for the ACLU-Minnesota, said he knew Zaman worked as a consultant and had a relationship with Novation, but he declined to discuss it.
"I don't know how much I can say," he said.
Samuelson pushed for Zaman to admit his schools taught religion, but the settlement fell short of the "bright line decision" the ACLU desired. The lawsuit cost the ACLU more than $2 million and legal pressures forced both of the high-performing TiZA schools to close.