Thursday, November 11, 1999

Showdown looms for Reading superintendent

Varis' job said to be in jeopardy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        READING — Talk is flying that John Varis, the school superintendent who caused an uproar with comments that all options — including arming teachers — should be discussed to combat school violence, will resign, retire or be fired tonight at a special board meeting.

        Dr. Varis refused to discuss the matter Wednesday. School board members who could be reached said they knew little.

        “We've been looking at upgrading some facilities, so I know that's on the agenda,” board member Michael Wylie said.

        “As far as anything with Dr. Varis, Dr. Varis has not contacted me, nor has the president of the board, so I have no idea.”

        A crowd is expected at tonight's meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. School board member Bill Apking and board member-elect Vicki Solomon said it would be held at the Junior Senior High School.

        Board President Jim Perdue did not return calls seeking comment.

        Dr. Varis, in his 13th year as superintendent of the 1,400 student, national Blue Ribbon award-winning Reading Community Schools, has been a controversial figure.

        At an Oct. 28 forum, residents criticized what many called Dr. Varis' domineering leadership style and called for his resignation.

        The controversy sparking that meeting arose over comments Dr. Varis made Oct. 15 about the merits of arming teachers for students' protection. Dr. Varis has said that he was merely brainstorming ways to increase school safety and that the media sensationalized his comments.

        The school board has asked Dr. Varis to continue looking into safety measures, including whether to stock school offices with bullet-resistant vests and talking to police academy officials about training teachers.

        Some in the community were alarmed. Parents have circulated petitions calling for Dr. Varis' removal, and Ms. Solomon and fellow board member-elect Tom Bemmes made replacing Dr. Varis a key campaign issue.

        “This gun issue was not the whole problem with Dr. Varis,” Ms. Solomon said. “John Varis does not return a call. He's totally out of touch, and that's how he wants to be. ... The man has done some good things for our school, but he's very power hungry.”

        Dr. Varis has said that his contract runs out in 2002.

        Mr. Wylie said several board members had just returned from a seminar in Columbus and did not know much about tonight's special meeting.

        Linette Kiefer, a Reading parent who campaigned for Ms. Solomon and Mr. Bemmes, said she plans to attend tonight.

        “I encourage all parents, no matter what their situation, to be involved and know what's going on,” she said. "Obviously this affects their children.”


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