Under Siege

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Goddard says he is confident that the education board will approve his request: "I think we have a rock-solid case."

But that does not mean the AG's request is a slam-dunk.

The district is challenging Goddard's action. Ironically, it is using state funds to hire an attorney to fight the receivership request.

If the AG's request is approved, the state Board of Education will appoint a receiver to oversee day-to-day administration of the district. His duties will include handling personnel issues. Three of the district's top administrators -- Superintendent Alvin Barlow, finance manager Jeffrey Jessop and assistant finance manager Oliver Barlow -- are under criminal investigation by the AG's Office for misuse of public funds and could be relieved of duty by the receiver.

For several years, teachers and parents have quietly complained about financial mismanagement of the school district and about widespread discrimination against non-FLDS members and their children.

Serious problems with the district began in July 2000, when Warren Jeffs ordered FLDS members to withdraw about 600 children from the public school and enroll them in private FLDS schools. He also ordered all FLDS teachers to resign from the public school.

At the same time, Jeffs directed key FLDS members to keep their positions on the school board and as top administrators to keep control of the district's $6 million budget. Jeffs ordered FLDS members to have no contact with the remaining parents, teachers and about 300 students left attending the public school.

Most of the students still at the public school were the children of members of a rival fundamentalist Mormon polygamist sect based in the nearby unincorporated community of Centennial Park. Because the rival group does not consider Jeffs its prophet, he decreed the Centennial Park polygamists as among the most evil people in the world.

During the five years that followed Jeffs' withdrawal order, the school board and administrators allowed the district's budget to plunge into the red. At the same time, they paid FLDS members who continued to work as janitors and bus drivers much higher salaries than certified schoolteachers who are members of the Centennial Park sect.

New Times exposed the financial crisis at the school following a four-month investigation that included the review of thousands of pages of district records ("The Wages of Sin," April 10, 2003). Three months later, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne asked the state Auditor General's Office to begin a special review of the district's finances. The auditor general has not yet released his findings.

Last spring, in the wake of the Colorado City teachers' paychecks bouncing, the Arizona Legislature passed the receivership bill, giving the AG and the state Board of Education the power to seize financially failing school districts.

Then came a new wrinkle, which demonstrates that even those who have been disenfranchised by the fundamentalist church are resentful of outsiders.

Now that the state finally has the power to remove FLDS members from key school district positions, Centennial Park residents -- worried that a school district takeover would be a step toward the state's ending polygamy, which they also practice -- now claim that the school board and administrators are getting unfairly attacked.

"Suddenly people are defending the school district," Michele Chatwin says. "They are saying the horrible AG is coming. Now, all of our concerns about the district's financial operations are being swept aside because the district is under attack."

New Times interviewed several teachers and staff members outside the school recently. None would give his name, and most expressed skepticism that anything positive would come out of the state's intervention.

One middle-aged man, who sat in a van with a teenage girl, concluded that the AG's action has "all been trumped up by the media."

Underage girls coerced into "celestial marriages" with much older men are not the only ones exploited by the FLDS.

Boys who grow up in Colorado City and Hildale are also victimized. In fact, two lawsuits filed in 2004 by young FLDS men have delivered the most powerful blow yet to the fundamentalist church.

Named as a defendant in the suits, Prophet Warren Jeffs did not respond to their allegations. His Salt Lake City attorney, Rodney Parker, withdrew from the cases last December.

Jeffs' failure to defend himself led to his removal as president of the United Effort Plan trust last June. That is when the Utah state court appointed Bruce Wisan as special fiduciary of the trust.

The fact that Jeffs failed to show up in court -- or even respond to the suits -- cost the prophet a fortune.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty