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John Hollenhorst ReportingAccusations of mismanagement and corruption are swirling around a public school on the Utah-Arizona border, and critics say it stems from domination by a fanatical polygamist leader.
Arizona lawmakers are debating bills to allow a state takeover for schools in financial crisis. It's prompted by the public school in the polygamist community of Colorado City, which gets students and taxes from both sides of the border. The Colorado City Public School overspent its budget by 1.2 million in less than two years, Arizona authorities say. They've looked into a host of irregularities.
Mike File, Mohave County, Ariz. School Superintendent: “Supplies and materials and furniture that were purchased but can't be found.”
Critics say the root of the problem is that most of the community is loyal to Warren Jeffs, a polygamist prophet with a tightening grip.
Gary Engels, Mohave County, Ariz. Investigator: “Everything he says and does, according to him, comes from God.”
The school crisis began four years ago when Jeffs ordered his followers to take kids out of the public school. Enrollment plummeted, causing a steep drop in tax funding. At the time Richard Holm was a Jeffs follower.
Richard Holm: “He's so driven, so supercharged with the idea that he's got to purify a people and purify himself, that I think he borders on insanity in many cases.”
Loyal families now send their kids to private schools to learn Jeffs' curriculum.
Richard Holm: “His rewriting of history and his viewpoint, where he explains so many things that to me are phony.”
A year ago Jeffs kicked Holm out and reassigned his family.
Richard Holm: “I try not to dwell on the pain of it, but it's certainly a big issue. I want to get my kids out of these private schools. Step by step, it's a restriction and a very restrictive environment...In my view it is child abuse.”
Meanwhile, the PUBLIC school Jeffs denounced is still run by his loyalists. The kids and teachers are not Jeffs followers investigators say, but custodians, administrators, even bus drivers are -- 100 staff for 320 students.
Gary Engels, County Investigator: “Most of those people are Warren Jeffs' people.”
Richard Holm: “That public school's been the biggest employer in the community for many years.”
Reporter: “And therefore a big source of funds for Warren Jeffs personally?”
Arizona officials say public school administrators bought a fleet of Ford Excursions and a Cessna Aircraft, spending hundreds of thousands in tax money.
Mike File, Mohave County School Superintendent: “There are just things that don't make sense. And other districts just don't do that.”
The airplane's been out of sight for weeks. It's believed to be in a hangar at the Colorado City airport. Supplies and equipment bought with tax money may have been diverted to personal or church use. ¤ Gary Engels: “Some of the things they did I think normal people would find a little bit outrageous.”
Holm says it's an unhealthy mix of religion and government.
Richard Holm: “The majority are dictating and have no interest in preserving even the civil rights of the minority.”
Twenty-seven kids from Hildale, Utah currently cross the border to attend the public school. Utah pays $2500 for each one. Washington County Superintendent Max Rose told us the kids get an "excellent education in the public school, but he's "dismayed" by the allegations.