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Cab firms pony up for housing for new school superintendent

Taxicab companies are the biggest contributors to the transitional housing fund established for Dwight Jones, the incoming superintendent of the Clark County School District.

Jones on Wednesday takes charge of the nation’s fifth-largest school district with nearly 310,000 students.

Because Jones is moving here from Colorado, where he was the state education commissioner, the fund was set up by the Public Education Foundation to pay for his transitional housing for up to six months.

Virgin Valley Cab, Ace Cab, Union Cab, Vegas-Western and ANLV Cab have contributed $5,000 of the $7,500 collected so far for Jones’ housing fund.

All five companies operate under the umbrella of Frias Transportation Management, whose founder, Charles Frias, was a longtime public education benefactor. An elementary school at 5800 Broken Top Ave., south of Blue Diamond Road, is named for Frias and his wife, Phyllis.

Mark James, a former state senator and Clark County commissioner, is the current chief executive officer of Frias Management.

Bob Forbuss, a former trustee of the Clark County School Board, is a board member of the Nevada Taxicab Authority. Neither Forbuss nor James could be reached for comment on Monday.

The other contributors are the Investment Counsel Co., which has given $1,500, and Phillip and Maureen Peckman, who have given $1,000.

Randy Garcia, the founder and chief executive of Investment Counsel, and Phillip Peckman, a lawyer and a former Greenspun Corp. executive, are both board members of the Council for a Better Nevada, a group of executives who study public policy issues. Maureen Peckman is the executive director.

Council for a Better Nevada has been active in education issues. Garcia said his decision to donate was made independently of the council. Garcia said he frequently contributes to education.

"I am committed to whoever is in the superintendent’s position," Garcia said. "I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and saying my prayers that (Jones) will deliver."

Critics have called the collection of donations for the fund a way for special interests to influence the new superintendent.

For the sake of transparency, the Public Education Foundation publishes the donor list on its website, ccpef.org, every two weeks. The money also is transferred to the School District every two weeks because the foundation is a separate entity. The district uses the money to reimburse Jones for his receipts.

Judi Steele, president of the foundation, did not know whether any of the money has been spent. Neither Jones nor district officials immediately responded to inquiries Monday.

While the foundation has not received any new donations since Nov. 17, it’s still early for donations because Jones is just getting started, Steele said. In addition, people might find giving money difficult during hard economic times.

Critics have called it unseemly in a depressed economy to give free housing to a school executive whose annual compensation has been estimated at $358,000. Garcia, however, said a housing allowance for executives is customary in the private sector.

Because of real estate market conditions, it’s very difficult to sell a house without a large loss, Garcia noted.

"What are you going to do?" Garcia said. "Get an apartment? He’s entitled to the same standard of living" as he had in Colorado.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@review journal.com or 702-374-7917.

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