A school district in a polygamous town plans to buy a group of buildings in order to deal with a recent influx of students.
Court documents show that the Colorado City, Ariz., School District has arranged to buy two buildings from the United Effort Plan, a multi-million dollar trust formerly controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The sale is the result of discussion between the school district and Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan, whom a judge appointed in 2005 to oversee the trust.
The sale includes two former school buildings, each for a price of $200,000, as well as a third building the school district is already leasing for $30,000. The more expensive buildings have been vacant, expect for domesticated goats seen grazing in the school yards.
The total $430,000 will be turned over to Wisan and held in an interest-bearing account. Attorney Jeffery Shields, who represents Wisan, said the buildings are located in downtown Colorado City in an area that gives residents easy access.
"It’s right in the heart of the community," he said.
Colorado City School District Superintendent/Principal Carol Timpson said the new buildings will serve about 225 first, second and third grade students. The school district currently houses all grades in one facility, which reached capacity this year. According to Timpson, the district had a total of 560 during the 2012-2013, up from about 475 the previous year.
Timpson attributed the enrollment increases to a growing population and people returning to the community after having left during the recession.
"We have a lot of transition with people having to move for jobs," she explained. "And we have a few from home schools that have increased our numbers."
Also, in recent years, hundreds of of FLDS members have stopped following church President Warren Jeffs, who forbid education outside the home.
About 50 percent of the students in the school district come from the Centennial Park, Ariz., community, just down the highway from Colorado City, Timpson said. Another 30 percent come from Colorado City, with others hailing from nearby Cane Beds and Hildale, Utah. None of the students are active members of the FLDS church, Timpson added.
Wisan spoke positively of the sale, saying it would help the community to have an independent, secular and centrally located school. Education also is one of the purposes of the UEP, Wisan said, and the sale will help fulfill that purpose.
"It’s just a win win," he added.
Court documents show that the property was appraised at a value of approximately $625,000. Shields said the lower purchase price — which a judge approved last week during a hearing — was agreed on because the school needs the buildings and because there were no other potential buyers. Shields also pointed out that the appraised value was based on comparisons to properties in more populous areas such as St. George, Utah, where real estate is in greater demand.
"There is no real market in Hildale and Colorado City," Shields added.
Shields and Wisan both said they had no immediately plans for the money, though Wisan added that it could be used to pay back the state of Utah. In March, lawmakers agreed to give Wisan’s office a total of $5.6 million to cover years of unpaid work on the UEP case. Wisan is required to pay back most of that money with funds raised from the UEP.
The property sale and school expansion also comes during a time of relative stability for the school district, which was taken over by the state in late 2005. The district spent nearly three years in receivership after the Arizona Attorney General’s Office made allegations of mismanagement and misuse of public funds among school officials. At that time, the school district was staffed by members of the FLDS church.
The district left receivership in 2008 with a new administration and other changes. No criminal charges were ever filed.
Shields said Wisan’s office also plans to move forward with other sales of UEP property in the near future. No homes will be sold, he explained, but commercial and agricultural land such as Harker Farms could be sold within weeks.