Published Online: November 16, 2004
Published in Print: November 17, 2004, as Pupil Loss Hits District in Arizona

Pupil Loss Hits District in Arizona

A small school district on the Arizona-Utah state line has run out of money, four years after it lost almost two-thirds of its students in a mass withdrawal encouraged by local religious leaders.

Since mid-October, funds have been insufficient to cover the paychecks issued to the 60-plus employees of Arizona’s 380-student Colorado City Unified School District, or to pay its vendors and lease-holders, said the district’s superintendent, Alvin S. Barlow.

“This has had quite an impact on us,” he said. “[But] the employees have stayed at their posts. We’re anxiously trying to bring a resolution to this.”

The district asked for an advance of December subsidy payments from the Arizona Department of Education, but that request was denied, said Tom Horne, the state superintendent of schools.

The district made headlines in 2000 when leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints urged its members, many of whom live in or near Colorado City, to home-school their children. The Mormon church disavows any connection to the Arizona sect. ("Student Exodus Hits Schools in 2 Towns," Sept. 13, 2000.)

Enrollment in the Colorado City Unified School district had been about 1,000 before the withdrawals.

Mismanaged?

Mike File, the superintendent of schools in Arizona’s Mohave County, has financial oversight of the district but lacks investigative authority. When the district’s enrollment declined, he said, the state agreed to a gradual reduction in state subsidies to enable it to adjust. It also received special funds intended for districts whose enrollment is in steep decline.

But Mr. File said that the state legislature later decided that the district no longer qualified for the aid. Mr. Barlow said that $400,000 of that money, which he had planned on having, is now not forthcoming. The district’s annual budget is about $5 million.

Colorado City’s financial straits have been worsened by the district’s spending practices, Mr. File contends. But Mr. Barlow said he has cut teachers’ pay by 15 percent, pared back health benefits, and reduced staffing.

Mr. Horne, the state superintendent, said he has asked the state auditor general’s office to investigate possible mismanagement of the district’s finances.

Laura Miller, the accounting-services manager for the auditor general, said that office is reviewing the district’s latest audit. She declined further comment.

Vol. 24, Issue 12, Page 10

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