Friday, November 12, 1999

School chief under fire steps down

Gun comments caused uproar in Reading

The Cincinnati Enquirer

John Varis
        READING — Superintendent John Varis will step down immediately in the wake of an uproar over controversial comments he made about arming teachers in schools.

        After a four-hour executive session Thursday night, board members announced a tentative agreement under which Mr. Varis will go on administrative leave immediately and vacate his office by Nov. 29. His resignation takes effect Jan. 1.

        Under the agreement, the board will pay $165,000 to buy out the rest of Mr. Varis' contract, which expires July 31, 2002.

        The announcement was greeted with cheers by a crowd of 125 in the cafeteria of Reading Junior/Senior High School.

        Dr. Varis has been under fire since Oct. 15, when he made comments about the merits of arming teachers for students' protection.

        That drew sharp criticism from some, but the superintendent said he was simply brainstorming school safety ideas.

        Dr. Varis did not attend Thursday's meeting, though he was present during negotiations. Efforts to reach him later were unsuccessful.

        He has headed the 1,400-student Reading Community Schools for 13 years.

        Board members declined to discuss their decision.

        Residents have criticized what many called Dr. Varis' domineering leadership style, and some circulated petitions for his removal. Two who won school board seats this fall made Dr. Varis a key issue.

        Incoming board member Vicki Solomon, a critic of Dr. Varis, expressed displeasure with the buyout.

        “I don't want to give this man my community's tax dollars,” she said.

        Resident Martha Hall said Dr. Varis has done what it takes to keep schools safe.

        “I send my sophomore daughter here every day in one piece, and that's how I expect her to come home,” she said.

        Jan Harrod was pleased Dr. Varis is leaving.

        “There's no question that I think he should be gone,” she said. “But I'm most concerned about our reputation.


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