Longform

Polygamy in Arizona: The Wages of Sin

Deloy Bateman begins each school day long before dawn.

He rousts five of his teenage children from bed at 2 a.m. An hour later, the clan arrives at the Colorado City public school. Soon, a few other kids join the group in Bateman's well-stocked science laboratory.

After two hours of preparation and studying, Bateman begins lectures on the first of a dozen classes he will conduct during the long day. They include pre-calculus, chemistry, earth science, electronics, plastics, physiology, physics and physical education.

Bateman doesn't work 16 hours a day for the money. After 20 years of teaching at the Colorado City Unified School District, his salary has risen to only $33,500 a year.

"We are dedicated to helping, plain and simple," he says. "That little statement pretty much explains my personality."

Ironically, as far as the fanatic polygamist Mormons who control this isolated northern Arizona community are concerned, Bateman may as well be teaching Satanism.

Colorado City, which hugs the Utah border north of the Grand Canyon, is a town where most of the residents don't believe in evolution, dinosaurs or that America sent men to the moon. It is a place where education beyond the eighth grade is deemed unnecessary by many particularly for teenage girls who frequently are coerced into polygamous marriages to older men by the time they reach 16.

Bateman and a handful of other dedicated educators fight an astounding array of obstacles to fulfill their duties as public school teachers chief among them hostile religious discrimination.

Despite the fact that most of the people living in the area practice a fundamental brand of Mormonism and embrace polygamy, a chasm deeper than that giant hole in the ground 60 miles to the south divides the community.

The dominant religious faction is controlled by the Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) based in Colorado City. Clustered in the unincorporated community of Centennial Park a few miles to the southeast is a smaller group of fundamentalists known as 2nd Warders.

The FLDS considers residents of the 2nd Ward traitors to God, derisively branding them "heathens" and "apostates." An uneasy tension has stalked the two sects for 20 years often spilling over into acrimonious exchanges revolving around the operation of the Colorado City Unified School District.

In July 2000, FLDS leaders exacerbated tensions when they ordered their followers to sever all unnecessary contact with apostates.

The FLDS directive triggered a massive withdrawal of fundamentalist students and teachers from the school district, leaving it populated primarily with 2nd Ward teachers and students.



But the FLDS didn't relinquish control of the schools. The district board, administrators and principals all kept their positions, as did most of the support staff of janitors, bus drivers and secretaries. But the FLDS ordered these faithful officials and employees to have little, if any, contact with the apostate teachers and students.

Unlike most teachers who fear losing their jobs, Bateman has openly criticized the FLDS-controlled school board and administrators for remaining in control of millions of dollars of public school funds after withdrawing their own children from classes.

"There can't be any ethics in this," Bateman says.

The clash between the two fundamentalist Mormon factions in the area is only the most obvious scar on the Colorado City public school system. The Mormon polygamists as they have done with other taxpayer-financed programs, including food stamps and subsidized health-care have tapped the public school system to help subsidize the cost of raising their very large families.

A six-month New Times investigation of polygamy in Arizona has uncovered an array of illegal and unethical actions by the FLDS-controlled school board, district administrators and school principals.

The investigation included an extensive review of thousands of pages of school district credit card records, travel vouchers, board minutes, district lease agreements and correspondence, all obtained under the Arizona Public Records Law.

New Times discovered that the Colorado City public school district which receives more than $4 million a year in state and federal aid is operated primarily for the financial benefit of the FLDS church and for the personal enrichment of FLDS school district leaders. At the same time, FLDS district leaders have taken actions that are detrimental to students and teachers who are not members of the dominant religious sect.

"Their priorities are not to go figure out how to best educate their students," says Kenneth Knudson, who ran for the school board last November as a non-FLDS member and was soundly defeated. "Their goal is to spend federal and state dollars locally."

Other findings include:

• The district maintains an illegal slush fund that allows FLDS board members, administrators and principals to charge personal expenses on district-issued credit cards. The unpaid credit card balance exceeded $23,000 on the November 2002 statement.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty