So Much We Don’t Know

Last Friday a Spokesman article by Chad Sokol announced: “Kevin Morrison resigns from board of Spokane Public Schools.” There was a time when most readers would have skimmed such an article and moved on, but, considering that the Spokesman and The Inlander covered the story from different slants, it seems that more context is warranted.

Some background: The Board of the Spokane Public Schools (SPS) consists of five members, three of whom were newly elected to their positions in the general election in November, 2019, just eight months ago. Kevin Morrison defeated Erin Georgen to serve for six years as a SPS Board Member. Mr. Morrison ran on his sixteen years experience in the administration of the Spokane Public Schools, experience most voters assumed would be useful for the function and continuity of the Board. Prior experience at SPS might be useful currently as the Board and SPS face multiple challenges: crafting plans for reopening the public schools this fall in the midst of the pandemic, the likely budget crunch related to the issue, plus the recent resignation of the Superintendent of SPS, Shelley Redinger, to lead the Richland Washington School District. 

Spokane Public Schools (in numbers of students) is the second largest school district in the State of Washington, after Seattle. SPS is roughly on par with Tacoma. Spokane Public Schools has an annual budget of nearly a half a billion dollars, 93% of which comes from Washington State coffers, only 7% from school levies. (For more background see The Board of Spokane Public Schools I wrote last fall.)

Serving on the Board of the Spokane Public Schools is an unpaid position. These people serve on the SPS Board as volunteers, volunteers who put themselves through the rigors of a political campaign and then devote tens of hours each week for six years to the job. Their work is mostly performed in relative obscurity, obscurity punctuated by attacks from small groups of media savvy citizens wanting to spotlight issues like sex education, vaccination requirements, and the arming of school security personnel. 

Mr. Morrison resigned from the SPS Board due to “unforeseen personal matters” according to the Chad Sokol of the Spokesman, “personal reasons” according to Wilson Criscione of the Inlander. The “personal matters” remain obscure in both news sources and, reportedly, to the other members of the Board as well. Mr. Morrison is mum, leaving readers to wonder. The articles could have ended there, but, instead, each news writer heads off on a different tack–and that’s where it gets interesting.

In the Spokesman Mr. Sokol goes on to discuss Mr. Morrison’s misgivings about the SPS Board’s speedy decision to appoint an SPS insider, Adam Swinyard, the associate superintendent, to replace Shelley Redlinger as head of Spokane Public Schools. Note, however, Mr. Morrison voted AYE to the appoint Mr. Swinyard, along with rest of the Board. Sokol’s coverage doesn’t read as a reason to resign but as a needless parting potshot at the function of the Board. 

Mr. Criscione in the Inlander article (no paywall), who was unable to interview Mr. Morrison, never mentions Mr. Morrison’s supposed misgivings about the process of replacing Ms. Redlinger. Instead, Mr. Criscione leans hard on a petition that began to circulate a month ago on (following the George Floyd murder) initiated by a local parent, Ileia Perry, calling for Morrison’s resignation. The petition references emails Mr. Morrison wrote while serving as interim Safety Director of SPS. Those emails were written months before Mr. Morrison was elected to the SPS Board. In that correspondence Mr. Morrison expressed support for a resource officer at Ferris High School, Shawn Audie, who had been videoed by students pinning a black student to the floor with his knee on the student’s neck. Mr. Morrison may not have known at the time of writing the emails that the resource officer, Mr. Audie, had a string of accusations of use of excessive force, including force that lead to the death of man, before Mr. Audie came on as a resource officer at Ferris. 

Did Mr. Morrison resign on account of the petition demanding his resignation? Further down in Mr. Sokol’s Spokesman (not the Inlander) article we read, “Asked Thursday whether the petition had anything to do with his decision to step down, Morrison said, ‘Emphatically, no. It had nothing to do with that.’” 

These two news articles, set side by side, leave us wondering. Both are “factual” reporting, not “opinion,” but the difference in slant is glaring. The pair of them leave me with many peculiar musings news coverage, propaganda, human communication, elections, and the actual challenges of civil governance.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. In the Spokesman article Morrison is also quoted with this snippy remark concerning the rapid replacement of Redlinger by Swinyard as Superintendent: “I think that the board is going to be best served at this time by someone who is maybe a complete outsider, and doesn’t come with preconceived experience or necessarily knowledge of how systems and process works, because that seems to fit the current board style and management.” Does this sound like a man who is resigning for “unforeseen personal matters”?