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Polygamy in Arizona: The Wages of Sin

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The school district also appears to be giving away space in its office buildings to private Colorado City businesses. New Times found at least two businesses operating in the school district building that do not have lease agreements with the district.

In fact, such private use of school district property has been going on for years, says Martin Black, a longtime district mechanic.

Black says several Colorado City residents, including the owner of an automotive-repair business, have been using school-bus-maintenance barn equipment to repair private vehicles on weekends and often during district business hours.

Though the repairs have "nothing to do with the schools," Black says, "they still do it."

None of the unscrupulous expenditures surprises Deloy Bateman.

"It's been going on forever," he says.

Most of the town's inadequately educated citizenry doesn't understand the proper use of public money. Plus, district officials are considered above reproach by most fundamentalist Mormons in the area.

"They have been driving the cars around for so long [that] nobody thinks twice about it," Bateman says.

Once a loyal FLDS foot soldier, Bateman broke away from the church a few years ago after religious leaders unsuccessfully tried to take away four of his children by his second wife. Bateman had grown up in the home of the late Prophet Leroy Johnson.

He was sent to college by Johnson, a rare opportunity for anyone from Colorado City. But Bateman dared to challenge Johnson's successor, Rulon Jeffs, over custody of the children and was branded an apostate.

While the district has issued vehicles to FLDS faithful willy-nilly, Bateman says it has turned down his requests to borrow a car or truck to take students on geology field trips. The result is that he has dipped into his meager teacher's pay to finance transportation for the frequent excursions.

Cessna for Sonny

The Colorado City school district ranks last in the state in teacher pay, with starting yearly salaries hovering at about $20,000.

Superintendent Barlow has long told teachers struggling to raise families on the pittances they are paid that the district is impoverished because of its limited tax base.

But in a school district where apostate students were forced to raise money for a day trip to see The Wizard of Oz, the FLDS-controlled school board manages to come up with money for some of the most extravagant expenses imaginable for its favorite sons.

In December, the school board voted to purchase something few, if any, other school districts in the country would even consider buying -- a $220,000 airplane, in this case a Cessna 210.

Board president Bistline's son, Ladell, discussed the possibility of the district's acquiring an aircraft during a meeting with assistant business manager Oliver Barlow in the spring of 2002, school board minutes show.

Ladell Bistline is a pilot and was already getting paid $50 an hour by the district to fly its personnel to and from alleged business meetings. The district was leasing a plane for $156 an hour for the trips.

F.L. Bistline at first expressed serious reservations about buying the plane from local businessman Con Holm. He noted that the district had just approved construction of the $7 million K-12 school, a $550,000 vocational-education building and purchased of a couple of $80,000 school buses.

But other members of the board insisted that a plane could reduce overall travel costs because of the long distances traveled by district employees. Bistline's opposition was short-lived. Last June, the board president announced at a meeting that he had decided it was a good idea to purchase the aircraft that his son would be paid by the district to fly.

Soon, according to transcripts, Bistline became the strongest supporter of purchasing a plane, suggesting at a June 21 meeting that the board might purchase his son's smaller Cessna 172 aircraft for $60,000, if the larger Cessna 210 was deemed too expensive.

Other board members insisted that the larger aircraft made more economic sense, and Bistline pushed to close the deal on Holm's plane immediately.

"It will take us three or four weeks to orchestrate the process," assistant business manager Oliver Barlow cautioned the board, reminding Bistline that the law requires public bids to be taken.

Not surprisingly, only one bid came in -- from Con Holm.

Ladell Bistline then inspected the plane and discovered a few structural and cosmetic problems. At a September meeting, F.L. Bistline moved to buy it for $200,000, toss in an additional $20,000 for repairs and upgrades and sign a pilot contract with his son.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty