Mitchell retires as school operations director
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
The evidence of Mike Mitchell’s success as operations director of the Carson City School District can be found throughout the city.
Renovated historic schools, a state-of-the-art athletic complex at the high school and new roofs and other repairs bear witness to his triumphs.
But that’s not what he’s most proud of.
“The buildings are tangible,” he said. “The feel-good aspect of community, of earning the taxpayers’ trust, you can’t buy that. You have to earn it.”
Mitchell, who was hired in 1992 as a consultant to finish the projects started in the 1990 bond, is often credited with helping to improve the school district’s credibility in the community.
The 1990 bond, which built the addition to Carson High School and Empire and Mark Twain elementary schools, was a public-relations disaster.
Asbestos slowed progress and sent projects above cost. After Mitchell took over managing those projects in 1992, he was hired as operations director in 1993.
Mitchell, 64, married to Joan and father of Lane, 34, and Ryan, 24, retires at the end of this month. A third-generation Nevadan, he was born and raised in Reno.
He began his career as an architect and owned his own business in Reno for 15 years before going to work for the school district.
“With his architect background, coupled with the ability to work with people, it was a great combination for us,” said former superintendent Mary Pierczynski who retired last year. “The projects are there ” the proof is there.”
But it wasn’t an easy transition.
The school board sought a $48 million bond in 1996 to build new schools, including a new high school.
Trustee Bob Crowell later called that election a “bloodbath.”
“The public wasn’t ready to forgive us for the 1990 bond,” Mitchell said.
However, an $18 million bond passed in 2000 for general repairs across the school district, including new roofs, upgraded heating and air conditioning systems and repairing parking lots.
The district opened up the schools to community tours and created a bond advisory committee, where the public could be a part of the decision-making process.
Opponents of previous bonds became advocates.
David Ruf, a father to school-age children, joined the bond committee.
“I was unhappy with how the previous bond had gone at the high school,” Ruf said. “I wanted to make sure the school district knew people were keeping them accountable.
It was long and arduous at times, but Mike Mitchell spelled everything out.
“I can’t tell you of anyone who worked with Mike Mitchell who wasn’t happy with the overall outcome. And we had several who started out critical.”
Taxpayers went on to approve a $3.75 million bond issue in 2002 to build an addition to Bordewich-Bray Elementary School and remove portable buildings that were found to be infested with toxic mold. A $25 million bond approved in 2006 paid for an
addition to and remodel of Carson Middle School and an upgrade to the athletic stadium and drainage system at Carson High School.
“Having naysayers turn around is gratifying,” Mitchell said. “Having taxpayers know we’re doing a good job with their money is huge.”
Mitchell said he will miss his work with the district.
“I like the people, and I like public education,” he said. “I never knew the importance of public education until I got into it. From the custodial staff on up, it’s a good team effort to get teachers to be able to teach these kids.”
He said he won’t miss dealing with budget cuts or angry parents. He hopes to go into consulting, working with other school districts in Nevada in overseeing their bond projects.
“The timing is perfect,” he said. “Five school districts approved bonds this year.”
Because of budget cuts, his position won’t be filled. Instead, his duties are being delegated among current employees.
– Contact reporter Teri Vance at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1272.