To the extent that it is thought of at all, most people equate Mormon settlement of the West with Utah and Salt Lake City. However, there were large Mormon settlements all over the Southwest, many of which remain Mormon enclaves today — homogeneous enclaves, with little diversity of opinion, morality, religion or ethnicity.

This article from the Tucson Weekly examines one isolated Mormon enclave in St. David, Arizona. Due to sprawl emmanating from Tucson, the St. David School District is about to be flooded with non-Mormons. The district is facing 10-fold growth in the student population over the next decade, and district leaders are struggling with how to deal with the incoming tide of people different from them.

“What we’ll probably do is keep the current school in town as is and build a new high school in the outlying area. That will prevent overcrowding at the current site and will keep those kids from having to be bused.”

It will also prevent mingling of the old and new populations. The article is fascinating — how does an enclave respond to competition from the outside? how does it maintain its identity in the face of change?

One option — the nuclear option — is to turn the old high school into a charter school. This would let the more established Mormon community maintain control over the school and its character, while letting the larger district go its own course. This is, in my opinion, a good example of what’s wrong with the charter school movement — it allows the use of public money for private ends. And that’s just not a good idea.

Posted on June 28th, 2005 by Katxena