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Playing Dixieland: The shell game continues
by Andrew Barbano
May 06, 2012 | 841 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Washoe County’s high school graduation rate skyrocketed from 56 to 70 percent in two years, eyebrows were raised locally and nationally but not in local media — until this column of April 22, excerpted by Dennis Myers in the April 26 Reno News & Review.

I pointed out that at least two widely divergent graduation reports have been published and that outgoing Superintendent Heath Morrison’s own projected increase for the current school year is a mere 1 percent.

“We’ve been left trying to compare bad information with inaccurate data,” one longtime activist told me.

The Reno-Sparks NAACP has contacted the Washoe County School District for original data with the goal of compiling one set of books the public can rely on. Branch President Lonnie Feemster, a census expert, questions why the African-American population of the area has increased while the number of black students has dropped. All the newbies can’t be senior citizens.

All this underscores the growing suspicion that Morrison didn’t do much more than reshuffle the deck and is now skipping out before the house of cards tumbles down. As it turns out, his new school board in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., is ready to change the way it compiles and reports student data. Seems made to order for Dr. M.

Hear no evil

Why has it been so easy for Morrison to proceed unimpeded? Because, like supersalesman Prof. Harold Hill in Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” he played to people’s preconceptions and hopes.

Local officials right here in River City have always been susceptible to “over the hill” syndrome. If some suede-shoe swoops in from out of town, he gets due respect and easy access to the public purse. He must be worth it. He’s from the big city.

The public likes and wants feel-good stories. Gov. Sandoval’s administration and chamber-of-commerce types need positive press to hustle businesses into relocating to the High Desert Plantation: “We may have a notoriously underfunded educational system, but just look what we’ve accomplished in less than three years with the new messiah at the helm. God Almighty, what are we going to do without him?”

Funding was butchered. Teachers were fired. Graduation rates officially improved. Down is up.

See no evil

In a display of bravado or foolishness or both, one member of the WCSD board of trustees actually asked for removal from my email list after I uploaded the April 22 “Mythological Morrison Miracle” column. I could understand the request I got from Nevada First Lady Kathleen Sandoval. I have not exactly been kind to her husband and she’s not a public official. But one might think that school board members would want to read criticism of their stewardship. One would be wrong. Anybody want to venture a guess as to which trustee asked for nuking?

I encourage anyone with comments on the current state of our schools to write me. Your names can be kept out. I have been compiling some surprising reader comments.

Speak no evil

Dr. Morrison has given speeches before fellow administrators, schooling them on the fine art of public relations. How do you know when you’ve mastered the discipline? When you can convince reporters to publish what you say verbatim. Which is exactly what the Reno paper did last Sunday. A front page transcript and a guest editorial. This boy is real good.

The only person who has gotten Morrison levels of ink out of the Reno Gazette-Journal this year has been former state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and he had to die to do it.

Who’s next?

District trustees have announced that they will conduct a national search but retired WCSD communications boss Steve Mulvenon disagrees. The prime season for shopping new administrators is over. Morrison, among others, put himself on the market and scored. To replace him now would mean choosing from the rejects. On Sam Shad’s Nevada Newsmakers show last Tuesday, Dr. Mulvenon predicted that the trustees would appoint an interim superintendent and start a real search later in the year.

Other than the substantial salary, I don’t know why anyone would want the job of walking the Morrison minefield guaranteed to blow your buns off.

Support Nevada Citizen TV Project

To re-establish a people’s television channel hereabouts, you can contribute via ReSurge.TV or call me. 

Help give the gift of non-corporate TV to your community. We are making real progress toward returning a citizens station to these parts. Your support is both needed and appreciated.

The Barbwire TV show remains in reruns around the state and region. Check the expanded web edition of this column at

Donate to the letter carriers food drive

The annual drive is this Saturday, May 12. The nation is in the throes of Great Depression Part Deux, so do all you can. Leave four or five bags of non-perishable food for your postal person to pick up. Union members tell me what you’ve always known: Every year, those who have the least give the most.

Like God planned it that way

After a downtown appointment, I dropped in on the Reno City Council meeting last Wednesday. They immediately adjourned. Coincidence? Yes. Ironic? Hell yes.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 43-year Nevadan, editor of and first vice-president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988. E-mail
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