Rogue River fills two of three school district vacancies

ROGUE RIVER — The Rogue River School Board has hired new leadership to fill the void after two administrators resigned, leaving the district's top three positions vacant.

The board voted unanimously to hire Harry Vanikiotis and former high school physical education teacher Jesse Pershin to fill the two seats left vacant when Dave Orr, former superintendent and high school principal, resigned in June. Vanikiotis will take the superintendent's position. Pershin will serve as principal.

Rogue River Elementary School Principal Michele Wolf also left the district in June to accept a position with the Southern Oregon Education Service District.

Vanikiotis said Wolf's position will be filled as soon as he can find a qualified replacement.

Vanikiotis' one-year contract for $92,000 was approved on July 3, according to a school board member. His first day on the job was July 9. The board paid a $5,400 consultation fee to the Oregon School Board Association for recruiting help.

An Oregon native, Vanikiotis has spent more than 30 years in public education. He has 11 years' experience each as a teacher and a high school principal. He also brings extensive administrative experience to the district, having most recently served as superintendent for four years in the Eastmont School District in East Wenatchee, Wash.

"We think he has top-to-bottom experience," said school board member Mike Kuntz.

Vanikiotis drove more than 80 miles to review the district's school bus routes and get a look at the district last week, he said.

"This gave me a wonderful overview of the school district," Vanikiotis said.

The Rogue River School District needs to reinvent itself, said school board member Julie Niles-Fry. Although the district's students continue to score very well scholastically, the district has lost more than 300 students since 1999. The projected enrollment for 2008-09 is 974 students. The steadily declining enrollment has had a devastating effect on the district's state and federal funding. The adopted budget for fiscal year 2007-08 is $11 million.

Vanikiotis guided the Eastmont district though a $40 million capital construction campaign, restructured grade levels and added staff training. Vanikiotis also led the larger district through two successful levy campaigns and several union contracts, said Kuntz.

"He went through the public process of restructuring," said Kuntz. "While some of our circumstances are different (in Rogue River), a lot are the same."

Niles-Fry said board members are counting on Vanikiotis to provide guidance as the district tries to find a way out of its severe fiscal crisis.

"He's a true leader, and we need that now," said Niles-Fry.

The board has already begun looking at a K-8 school model, developing an all-day kindergarten and/or redesigning bus routes in an attempt to increase revenue and cut costs.

"We're going to revisit the restructuring, downsizing, whatever you want to call it," said Niles-Fry.

A previously discussed option to save money by cutting up to 10 school days and four teachers, and increasing class sizes was unacceptable to all board members, said Niles-Fry.

"We want to see some innovation here," she said.

In addition to key leadership changes, six teachers and one counselor also retired or resigned this year. Between full and half-time positions, most of the vacancies have been filled, said Kuntz.

"Two of the full-time teachers will now work half-time," he said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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