Arizona's plans to build the new school shocked Washington County, Utah, public school officials, who were struggling to keep open Phelps Elementary School in Hildale, which is adjacent to Colorado City across the state line.
The Phelps school also had been hit hard by the mass withdrawal of FLDS students and would be forced to close unless more students were found. For years, some Colorado City children attended the Phelps school through a tuition agreement between Washington County and the Colorado City school district.
In February 2001, Washington County school officials offered to sell or lease the Phelps school, with a capacity of about 400 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, to the Colorado City school district. That way, Arizona taxpayers wouldn't have to spend more than $6 million toward a new school.
"All you would have had to do is bus them across the state line," says Washington County School Superintendent Kolene Granger. "Why would you waste your money on a new building?"
Granger says the offer was rejected by the Colorado City school board, whose members even canceled the tuition agreement that allowed Arizona children to attend the Utah school.
Though County Superintendent File agrees with Granger that an arrangement to continue busing the Arizona kids across the state line could have been reached, the state left the decision to Colorado City officials.
With no other choice, Granger was forced to close the Phelps school in fall 2001. Last year, Washington County entered into a 10-year, $1 million lease/purchase agreement with the FLDS-affiliated Twin City Improvement Association to acquire Phelps.
Once again, a public school was acquired by an FLDS-controlled organization. But unlike the Colorado City school district that lost money on its transfer of public assets to church entities, Washington County is getting paid. Washington County can also terminate the lease/purchase agreement if the demand for a public school in Hildale reaches more than 100 students.
In December 2001, 2nd Ward parents finally learned of plans by the Colorado City school district to build the new school and were outraged that they had been kept in the dark.
The new school's location was more than three miles from Centennial Park, where most of the students and teachers live. No consideration was given to using land in that community for the school, parents complained at the December 2001 board meeting.
"This proposed location requires every single student to be bused," Kenneth Knudson complained to the board.
District records show that nearly all of the district's bus drivers are members of the FLDS, with most receiving overtime pay that increases their salaries to an average of about $30,000 a year -- much higher than the $20,000 annual salaries paid to most of the district's teachers (now predominantly from the 2nd Ward.).
Knudson notes that the district continued to employ about 100 people for a school district with only about 300 students.
"You are going to guarantee the financial doom of the district if you keep on doing what [they] are doing," Knudson warns.
Yet high school sophomore Anne Dockstader complained at the meeting that the high school had not hired a math teacher and that there were no substitute teachers when regular teachers were gone.
"There is no one in the classroom," she said. "Nothing gets done."
Earlier, Dockstader had sent a letter to state and county education officials complaining about the lack of qualified teachers in the Colorado City schools. The letter was signed by 41 other students.
Dockstader pointed out in her letter that the district had two certified math teachers on staff, but they had been reassigned to non-teaching jobs. Both teachers are members of the FLDS who had been ordered not to associate with 2nd Ward apostates.
At the December 2001 meeting, several parents demanded that school board members resign, noting that they have no children attending the public schools. Board members rejected the requests, and a special session was scheduled for the following week.
More than 140 people attended the special meeting. Typically, no more than a couple of citizens attend board sessions. Once again, resignation demands were rejected.
"If the people I represent don't like me, go to the polls and get someone else," board president F.L. Bistline, who has served on the board since 1960, told angry parents and teachers.
Bistline rejected claims that he and other board members were FLDS puppets.
"I know we have been accused of being governed by our church, which is not the case," he stated, before strongly hinting that board members seek advice from church officials.
"Now, as an individual, I think any one of us has the right and the opportunity to go and consult with any leading person we feel like can give us good advice. We don't have to take it."