Construction, architectural firms' dollars behind former first ladies' campaign
LAS VEGAS — When Clark County school trustees approved a district-wide building inspection contract June 21, one of them appeared to acknowledge that political pressures push trustees toward ever-higher spending.
“I think we all know on this Board and we all know in this audience that there are political pressures brought to bear on this Board to do things that are not necessarily indicated as needed to be done,” said Carolyn Edwards.
Unfortunately for Clark County taxpayers, CCSD’s latest property-tax-increase ballot initiative fits Edwards’ description well.
According to Secretary of State records, the seven largest donors to the School Improvement Committee PAC — the political action committee formed by four former Nevada First Ladies to support the initiative — are all construction and architecture firms currently under contract to CCSD.
Additionally, six of the seven companies have contributed to the election campaigns for CCSD trustees since approval of the 1998 $4.9 billion bond — which funds the companies’ current contracts.
As of June 8, the First Ladies’ Committee had received $23,700 — with $5,000 donations each from Pugsley Simpson Coulter Architects, Sletten Construction of Nevada, Inc. and McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.
All three companies currently have substantial contracts with CCSD funded by the 1998 capital bond.
Sletten, for example, received 60 warrants worth nearly $139 million between January 2009 and December 2011, according to CCSD records, and has received $589 million in capital improvement contracts since 1994.
Pugsley Simpson Coulter — formerly known as Welles-Pugsley — since January 2009 has received 11 warrants worth over $3 million, and $41 million since 2002.
In turn, Pugsley has donated $14,500 to various trustees since 1998, including current trustees, Deanna Wright, Erin Cranor and Edwards.
McCarthy Building has received, according to CCSD expenditures, 53 construction warrants between 2008 and June 2012, worth over $144 million. McCarthy is headquartered in St. Louis but has a Las Vegas office and is currently working on construction projects at Valley and Clark High Schools.
The next three largest contributors to the School Improvement PAC are The Landwell Company, The Hughes Corporation Summerlin West (THHC), and Howard Hughes Properties, Inc (HHP). All three companies contributed $2,500 to the PAC and have contributed over $60,000 combined to trustee campaigns since 1998.
Unlike the other PAC contributors that currently have construction and architectural contracts with CCSD, Landwell, Summerlin West and HHP are each affiliated with master-planned communities eyeing new schools to be built on their properties.
Landwell is the development company behind Cadence, a 2,193-acre master-planned community in Henderson. According to Cadence’s website, Landwell plans on including three elementary schools and one middle school within the community.
The elementary school currently zoned for the Cadence development, CT Sewell, is, according to CCSD enrollment reports, 27 percent over capacity since CCSD switched to a nine-month calendar last school year.
In its proposed capital improvement plan for the new tax, CCSD projects two “new schools” needed to relieve overcrowding.
According to a 2008 CCSD Real Property Management report, Landwell’s four master-planned schools are recognized as “Major Project Development Agreement Sites.”
CCSD representatives tell Nevada Journal no current agreement to build schools exists.
“The sites are listed as potential school sites on the real property management reports,” explained CCSD personnel in a recent email. “If a decision is made in the future to build a school on those sites, an agreement will be entered with Landwell at that point.”
CCSD has similar contracts with Howard Hughes Properties and The Hughes Corporation to build four schools in Summerlin West, a 22,500 acre master-planned community similar to Cadence in the western part of the Las Vegas valley.
Howard Hughes Properties and The Hughes Corporation are subsidiaries of The Howard Hughes Corporation, a Dallas-based real estate development company, a company spokesman confirmed to Nevada Journal.
On top of the $2,500 PAC donation, The Hughes Corporation has donated over $59,000 to trustees since 1998. Edwards is the only current trustee who has received donations from The Hughes Corporation, having received $1,000 during her 2006 campaign.
Since 1998, CCSD has purchased $8.1 million-worth of property from both The Hughes Corporation and Howard Hughes Properties.
SH Architecture, which donated $1,000 to the School Improvement PAC, has received 56 warrants worth $2.3 million, with the payments coming from both the 1998 capital bond as well as the 2010 Interim Capital Plan Fund.
SH has received over $17 million for architectural design services since 1998, and has contributed $5,000 towards trustee elections since 2004.
Officially, the latest tax initiative is a “pay as you go” capital improvement project. Clark County Debt Management Committee members call it a “bridge” — a term initially used by CCSD — until property tax revenue “returns to a reasonable level.”
Kyle Gillis is a reporter for Nevada Journal, a publication of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Karen Gray, a reporter/researcher for Nevada Journal, contributed to this report. For more in-depth reporting, visit http://nevadajournal.com/ and http://npri.org/.