By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The district's unrestrained spending has forced it to borrow more than $880,000 from a $1 million line of credit with Wells Fargo Bank and another $300,000 from Mohave County to cover inordinately high operating expenses.
Last November, the 330-student Colorado City district asked the state Department of Education for an emergency advance of $1 million in state aid to cover ongoing expenses. The state refused, and asked the district to provide additional information concerning its expenses. The school district provided more details on December 15, lowering its request for an advance to $970,000.
In a request for information, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne asked Mohave County Superintendent Mike File, who has jurisdiction over the Colorado City district, if the small school system has misused public funds. File skirted the question, but he did say that Alvin Barlow and his school board have made "no effort to reduce spending" and that Colorado City's request for an emergency advance "should be denied."
On January 2, the state DOE formally rejected Barlow's and the board's request for the advance funding. In a letter to the district, the department noted that Colorado City is employing twice as many workers as other public school districts with a similar number of students.
The DOE warned Colorado City that the district is in imminent danger of violating state law by exceeding its approved budget and needs to take immediate steps to reduce spending.
As of mid-January, it had taken no steps to reduce employment in the public school system, which, File said, is likely to run out of money and be forced to close this spring.
State officials believe that the district may be padding its employee roster with relatives of district officials and/or favored FLDS members. Along those lines, the state has asked district officials to disclose if they or a family member has a financial interest in companies that do business with the district, but only three have complied so far.
Oliver Barlow, the district's business manager, disclosed that he is an officer in Streamline Automotive, a Hildale automobile repair shop that provides extensive service and maintenance for a fleet of school vehicles, including the 1994 Suburban issued to him.
Oliver Barlow also disclosed that his architect brother, Edmund, was awarded a contract related to the construction of the new $7 million K-12 school built by the state last year.
School board president F. Lee Bistline Sr. said his son Ladell has a district contract to pilot and maintain the district's Cessna 210. Another son, Lee Jr., has been hired by the district to provide accounting and technical services.
Board member William Meldrum said he's the owner of a fire-safety equipment company awarded a contract by the district last year to service fire extinguishers.
The conflicts come as no surprise to longtime residents of the community who contend that they have seen school officials take state vehicles on family vacations.
A teacher and some parents of students say the FLDS is conducting church business out of a $500,000 vocational building built along with the school last year. The two-story structure, they say, is never used by students. Non-district personnel are routinely seen entering the computer-equipped facility.
School supplies are regularly pilfered by church members who have unfettered access to the school in the evenings and on weekends, these sources say.
"I'm guessing," a well-connected parent alleges, "that CCUSD is acting as a supply warehouse for the FLDS schools to stock their shelves."
Key anti-polygamy activists, who are thrilled with the dissension within the fundamentalist Mormon church, are at the same time at each other's throats.
The dispute, which already has shut down a key outreach facility in St. George, Utah, centers on how to best help underage children wanting to leave Colorado City and Hildale.
One faction, led by Phoenix resident Flora Jessop and California child-welfare advocate Jay Beswick, endorses the use of direct intervention to transport juveniles out of the area and into secret locations often hundreds of miles away.
While this tactic can be effective in removing kids from the polygamous community at least temporarily, it runs a high risk of violating state and federal laws.
Any minor fleeing the area, they say, should be turned over to Child Protective Services in Arizona and Utah as soon as possible to ensure that both the minors' and their parents' legal rights are protected.
The downside of this approach is that Arizona and Utah have in the past returned minors seeking to leave Colorado City and Hildale to their parents unless a juvenile court finds that the children have been abused or neglected.
The fact that the minors may run away from a community where polygamy is the norm is not enough to sever parental rights. Child protective services officials in both states, however, say they will not return any underage female to a family if the girl believes she is facing a forced marriage.
"Every case has to be treated individually," said Carol Cisco, spokeswoman for Utah's Division of Child and Family Services. "If a child is about to be abused . . . we would not send them back."