Polygamy in Arizona: The Wages of Sin

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The Prophet routinely reassigns entire families to more favored men if a husband falls into disfavor with the "priesthood." Marriages are often arranged between first and second cousins, and men occasionally marry the stepdaughters of newly assigned wives. In some cases, sons will marry their stepmothers ("Bound by Fear," March 13).

Followers believe the Prophet is God's manifestation on Earth and submit to his will with strict obedience.

Within days of Warren Jeffs' sermon, more than 20 FLDS teachers submitted their resignations from the then-950-student Colorado City public school system. Support personnel and administrators who had limited, if any, contact with apostates were allowed to keep their jobs.

About 650 FLDS children were withdrawn from the public schools and enrolled in home schools and private FLDS schools.

The mass withdrawal of students attracted international media attention, but the coverage was superficial and fleeting. No one deigned to pry too deeply into the closed society that distrusts outsiders and carefully monitors all movements of any press that comes to town.

As the furor died down, the Colorado City school district began to systematically dismantle its classroom infrastructure paid for with taxpayer dollars and turn over the assets to the FLDS-controlled private schools, district records show.

Despite the decline in students, the district maintained its unusually high payroll packed with FLDS janitors, bus drivers, mechanics and secretaries nearly all of whom receive far higher pay than the mostly 2nd Ward teachers and teacher aides, district records reveal.

In the ensuing two years after the FLDS withdrawal, district administrators, led by superintendent Alvin Barlow (who is paid $50,000 a year), plundered the district's treasury by running up thousands of dollars in personal expenses on district credit cards, purchasing expensive vehicles for their personal use and engaging in extensive travel. The spending spree culminated in December, when the district purchased a $220,000 Cessna 210 airplane to facilitate trips by district personnel to cities across Arizona.

The district's spending binge was fueled in part by a provision in state law that provides a financial cushion to schools in the event of a sudden decline in enrollment. It is no surprise that the Colorado City district benefited immensely from the provision, since Alvin Barlow who at 30 years on the job is the most tenured school superintendent in Arizona was keenly aware of it.

The state's "rapid-decline provision" allowed the school district to receive state funding for 949 children in fiscal year 2001, 785 children in fiscal year 2002 and 688 children in the current fiscal year that ends June 30, even though actual student counts in each of these years was closer to 300.

State Department of Education officials say the Colorado City school district received more than $1.4 million in rapid-decline subsidies in fiscal year 2002, and again in 2003. State records show the district received an additional $1.5 million in state aid for phantom students in fiscal 2001.

At a time when school districts around the state are facing severe budget cutbacks, the state's rapid-decline subsidy is projected to continue pumping millions of dollars into the district for students who no longer attend there through fiscal 2006.

Even with this state subsidy which so far exceeds $4.3 million for phantom students the Colorado City school district is on the brink of financial disaster.

The combination of maintaining an unusually high number of employees on the district payroll combined with rampant spending by district and school administrators has decimated the tiny district's budget.

"Where we are only two-thirds of the way through the year, we have overexpended our entire annual budget," district assistant business manger Oliver Barlow said at a school board meeting February 25.

"We need to not only reduce our expenditures to zero but cover the necessary expenditures from February through June."

Oliver Barlow, who is paid $48,000 a year by the district, suggested tapping a $1 million bank line of credit to cover the shortfall.

Landlorded Over

Alvin Barlow greets a New Times reporter on a cold winter morning with a friendly handshake and a question.

"Did you happen to see the accident on the mountain last night?" he asks, referring to a pickup truck that skidded off an ice-packed highway and smashed into a tree on the Kaibab Plateau near Jacobs Lake.

One of Alvin's many sons was in the truck, but luckily he was not seriously injured.

Accidents, illnesses and injuries loom large in Alvin Barlow's life.

He is said to have more than 30 children and at least half a dozen wives. Over the next several months of New Times' plowing through district records, two more events nearly claimed the lives of his children, which forced him to spend a great deal of time at a hospital in St. George, Utah.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty