Derail Polygamy's Money Train

A bill before the Legislature would allow the state to begin reforming a society that steals public money and abuses underage girls

Commentary

The school board's featherbedding has reached absurd proportions.

The district has more than 100 employees for 350 students, a ratio far out of line with the typical one employee to 25 students in most Arizona school districts.

The school board's profligate spending -- including the purchase of a $220,000 airplane flown by the school board president's son -- finally exhausted the school district's $1 million operating line of credit with Wells Fargo Bank.

The bank canceled the credit line last fall, triggering a financial meltdown that led to the district's repeatedly issuing bogus payroll checks to teachers.

Second Ward teachers, parents and students are so angry over the degenerating situation at the school that they took the unprecedented step of inviting me to meet them in Colorado City recently so they could publicize the outrages that have come their way.

Like FLDS members, the Second Ward polygamists are extremely wary of the media because they don't want to bring unnecessary attention to their lifestyle.

I accepted their invitation, and after a round of introductions followed by my pledge not to reveal their names, the teachers began to unload their frustrations of working at a school where administrators hate them and their paychecks are no good.

"We are hanging on because of the children," one female teacher said. "But we just can't keep doing this if we don't get paid."

A male teacher said he and his colleagues are on the verge of walking out.

"Either I'm going to get paid or I'm going to be working somewhere else," he said.

Teachers have been so distracted in recent weeks that they have sometimes not shown up for class.

A senior high school female told me she blames the FLDS-dominated school board for the crisis.

"The school board should be there to help the teachers, not cause all these problems," she said.

Students are very worried the school could close and they will not graduate.

It's rare when a girl graduates from the Colorado City high school -- many quit attending after 10th grade to assume roles as polygamous wives. Children soon follow, and they never resume their education.

"I just want to hurry and graduate before the school shuts down and completely fails," she said.

The students, teachers and parents truly believe their school is on the brink of closing. They are desperately seeking help, but they don't know what to do.

This is an intolerable situation that transcends the practice of polygamy.

There is a sizable segment in the polygamist community that truly wants to educate their children. They deserve the opportunity to go to a public school that is not tainted by religious dogma.

It's obvious that the FLDS-controlled school board is purposefully inflicting as much financial damage to the school district as possible. After all, it's the hated Second Ward teachers and students who rely on the school while FLDS children are home-schooled or attend FLDS religious schools.

Also, the FLDS puts very little value on education, believing that an ignorant public is a subservient public. It is especially beneficial to the church to keep women uneducated because it makes it extremely difficult for them to leave and survive in the outside world.


The fate of the Colorado City school district is now in the hands of the Arizona Legislature and subject to the ravages of politics.

The House last month passed a bill sponsored by Republican Representative Mark Anderson that would allow the state Board of Education to appoint a receiver to oversee operations of any "grossly dysfunctional" school district.

The bill, however, is attracting stiff opposition from lobbyists representing school board associations and school administrators who say the legislation transfers too much authority from local school boards to the state.

"This bill goes too far . . . and we very strongly oppose it," Janice Palmer, a lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, said during a March 30 hearing before the Senate K-12 Education Committee.

Palmer says her association supported an earlier draft of the bill that would have required a superior court to appoint a receiver to oversee school districts with substantial financial problems -- which would have included Colorado City.

But that language was broadened during the House debate to allow the state Board of Education to appoint a receiver to operate any "grossly dysfunctional" district. This was state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne's idea.

Horne, a Republican, says the House bill would give the state the authority to appoint a receiver to oversee the operations of any school district that the state Board of Education determines to be operating improperly.

"My bill figures that today it could be financial problems, and tomorrow it might be something else. So it deals with any illegality at a school district," Horne tells me.

Horne says opposition to his bill is coming from Democrats and the powerful education lobby -- both of which, he claims, "are soft on Colorado City."

"We are talking about a grossly dysfunctional situation [in Colorado City], and you would have thought the Democrats would want to see that corrected," Horne says.

But Democrats claim Horne is trying to expand his power at the Department of Education by taking advantage of the Colorado City school crisis.

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