PHOENIX — State officials’ receivership petition against a school district serving a northern Arizona polygamist community alleges “systematic and egregious mismanagement,” including a nearly $200,000 airplane purchase, a six-figure landscaping contract and the forfeiture of prepaid rent for a school.
The petition drafted for filing with the state Board of Education also says Colorado City Unified School District officials took family members on business trips without reimbursing the district and that the district paid for satellite television at an administrator’s home.
Attorney General Terry Goddard said the alleged mismanagement has resulted in top-heavy administration and extravagant spending that benefited those who ran the 344-student district in Colorado City, a Mohave County community controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sect, whose members also live in Hildale, Utah, espouses plural marriage.
The petition, drafted by Goddard’s office on behalf of state Superintendent Tom Horne and the Board of Education’s executive director, is to be filed Friday, the day a new law permitting the state to place school districts in financial receivership takes effect.
“What we found in putting together this petition is a very serious story of mismanagement of public money, and the children who attend the schools of the school district in Colorado City ultimately are the victims,” Goddard said.
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District Superintendent Alvin Barlow did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.
Goddard said his office would deliver the petition to district representatives on Friday. The Board of Education then could consider the receivership petition after 35 days.
The petition said the district:
Let its teachers go unpaid for two months in 2004 before the district’s insurer stepped in to cover the district’s IOUs. Without the insurer’s intervention, the district would have exposed itself to costly lawsuits. The district still can’t meet its payroll and other financial
obligations without help from the insurer, the petition said.
Is the only one in Arizona with an airplane. The Cessna cost $200,000 to purchase and an additional $20,000 to repair. Related expenses included a $50-an-hour pilot contract with a son of a governing board member and district-owned vehicles at airports in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Kingman for use when board members, administrators and others travel there by plane.
Ranked 210th out of 227 school districts statewide in the percentage of dollars used for classroom instruction in 2004, spending 42.6 percent of its funding for classroom education, well below the state average of 58.6 percent.
Granted a $107,700 contract for grounds maintenance at a time when the district had only an office building and one school building. Goddard said it appeared a crew of men in a pickup truck spent about an hour a day picking up trash.
Forfeited prepaid rent of $198,700 for a school building leased from a subsidiary of the church’s trust in 2002 when the district said it had too much classroom space. Two years later, district officials cited overcrowding when they asked the state for money to build a new school and two additions to an existing one.
Goddard said some of the information for the petition was extracted from documents, computers and other material seized from district offices during a May 24 raid conducted by state investigators as part of a criminal investigation. Goddard declined to discuss the status of the criminal investigation.
However, Goddard said forfeiting the rent had the effect of at least indirectly benefiting the church-controlled private school subsidiary. “In fact it may be something presented to a court,” he said.