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Polygamy in Arizona: The Wages of Sin

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Even so, there was no pressing financial reason to get rid of the three classroom buildings, since the district had already prepaid the leases through June 2003.

The prudent decision would have been for the district to hold on to the classrooms for future use. But its allegiance wasn't toward students, teachers and taxpayers.

It was toward the FLDS.

The 650 FLDS students needed somewhere to go to school, and the classrooms the school district was leasing from the church-controlled Colorado City Improvement Association were the obvious solution.

A month after Warren Jeffs' decree in July 2000, the school district terminated its lease on the junior high school, which wasn't scheduled to expire until June 2003. The district had prepaid $270,000 for the final three years of the lease, district records show.

Terminating the lease early cost the school district dearly. The Improvement Association refunded only $150,000 of the prepaid lease, according to district records.

Not only did the district lose about $120,000 on the lease, it wasn't compensated for a remaining steel-roofed shelter over the outdoor basketball courts and fire-alarm, telephone and landscape-irrigation systems left in place.

Within weeks, the junior high school was converted into a private, FLDS school.

This scenario was repeated in November 2000, when the district decided to terminate its lease on the David J. Broadbent elementary building, which also was owned by the Improvement Association.

The school district had prepaid a $720,000, eight-year lease on the Broadbent building in July 1995. The lease payment came from proceeds generated by $1.8 million in bonds the district issued to fund school facilities and purchase equipment. State law requires that bond proceeds be spent for only the uses specified.

The school district, however, didn't ask the Improvement Association to refund the $232,500 in cash left over from the lease money it had prepaid.

Instead, it asked the association to credit the $232,500 toward lease payments for the Marvin L. Darger elementary building, another facility the district was leasing from the association. The association agreed, and extended the Darger building lease through January 31, 2006. As with the Broadbent building, the district had prepaid the original Darger lease in 1995, in this case using $600,000 in bond funds.

Once again, the district left expensive improvements (landscaping and telephone and computer systems) in the Broadbent building and sought no compensation. And like the junior high school, the Broadbent building was soon occupied by a private FLDS school.

Then, at the same time it was relinquishing classroom space, the district held a surplus property sale on August 11, 2000. Sold were classroom and teacher desks, office chairs, chalkboards, playground equipment, room dividers, four vehicles, file cabinets, shelving, a driver's education simulator, typewriters, copy machines and bleachers -- just about everything needed to set up a private school.

The result of all this was that by November 2000, the FLDS-controlled Improvement Association -- without spending a dime -- had obtained two former public school facilities for use as private church schools.

In addition, the Darger building, which had extended its prepaid lease to January 2006, would fall under the FLDS' control in the fall of 2002.

But capturing the Darger building for use as a private school would come only after the state School Facilities Board agreed to invest $6 million in taxpayer funds to build a replacement school for the Colorado City Unified School District.

State Ripped Off

In February 2001, the Colorado City school district reached a preliminary agreement with the state School Facilities Board to build a new school for kindergartners through 12th graders on 34 acres of state trust land east of town near an industrial park. The agreement came after a year of negotiations between the district and the state over acquiring a new school.

The state agreed to put $6 million into the project, with the district picking up any additional expenses. The district qualified for the state-financed project because the Colorado City high school was located in a dangerous, substandard adobe building on five acres of district-owned land in downtown Colorado City.

The state board was well aware that the mass withdrawal of students had cut the district's enrollment from 950 to 300. But given the substandard condition of the high school and the district's low tax base that prevented it from raising enough funds to pay for another school, it decided to build the new, 600-student school for the district.

The district, however, did not notify students, teachers and parents of the likelihood that a new school would be constructed -- which later triggered angry outbursts from 2nd Ward parents over the site selected.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty