Brian Barefoot best to lead the School Board

If the other four members of the newest version of our School Board don’t nominate Brian Barefoot for chairman next week, the former Indian River Shores mayor should nominate himself.

My guess is Barefoot won’t do it because he possesses too much class and character to suggest what should be obvious to everyone – that he is, by far, the most qualified candidate for the job.

He’s clearly the best choice.

Not only would he bring a lifetime of knowledge, experience and professionalism to what has been a sometimes-contentious, occasionally chaotic board, but our school district would benefit mightily from the sure-and-steady, solution-driven leadership he would provide at a pivotal time.

As Barefoot said when he announced his candidacy for the School Board last winter: “We’ve got a superintendent who gets it, who has a reputation as a reformer and who sees an opportunity here. And he’s going to push his agenda.

“I want to make sure he doesn’t get bogged down by the board and that he gets what he needs to do the job.”

Barefoot would be better positioned to support first-year superintendent Dr. David Moore if he is chairman of the board. Unless he nominates himself, however, he might not get the chance – which would be a waste of his talents.

After newcomers Barefoot (District 5) and former Sebastian River High School principal Peggy Jones (District 3) embark on their four-year terms Tuesday, the board will elect a new chairman to replace the outgoing Laura Zorc, who lost to Jones.

My school district sources tell me Jones, a longtime educator, will nominate Teri Barenborg, another longtime educator who was elected to the board’s District 4 seat two years ago.

If a third board member seconds Barenborg’s nomination – and if no one else is nominated – she will have the votes needed to be elected chairman. That, I’ve been told, is the likely scenario, and it’s not the worst result, given Barenborg’s years in education and experience on the board.

But it’s not the best option.

For those who don’t know: Barefoot enjoyed a wildly successful career in investment banking at Paine-Webber International (where he was an executive vice president) and Merrill Lynch (where he retired as a senior vice president and managing director), followed by a seven-year stint as president of Massachusetts’ Babson College.

We should be thrilled that someone of Barefoot’s ability and accomplishment cared enough about our community to step out of a well-deserved retirement and, at age 76, seek a seat on the School Board – an often-thankless, $35,000-per-year position that requires a great commitment of time and energy.

We should take full advantage of all he has to offer.

The fact that Barefoot would be a School Board rookie means nothing. He has spent more time on boards than most local surfers, and he’d coast through any transition.

In addition to his five years as the Shores’ mayor, he has served on numerous high-profile boards – many connected to education – and chaired several of them. He knows how to run meetings efficiently, manage and get through agendas, and work with other board members.

He also has made himself familiar with how our School Board has operated, having watched meetings and, as a candidate earlier this year, met with its members.

Surely, they were impressed.

So why not give him the chair and, knowing the value of education, learn from him?

“I don’t know that I want to be the chairman, but I’m sure I could do it,” Barefoot said. “And I would do it if asked.”

Barefoot would do it because he believes our community is special and deserves better than mediocre schools, which he has called an “embarrassment.”

He’d do it because he wants to remove any obstacles that would hinder the reform efforts of Moore, who inherited from his predecessor a district plagued by poor morale, too much teacher turnover, mishandled finances, unnecessary investigations and costly lawsuits.

He’d do it because no one else on the board has the desired combination of educational experience, financial expertise and business acumen.

When Jones is sworn in, she will become one of four career educators on the board, which also includes current vice chairman Mara Schiff and Jackie Rosario. There’s value to their contributions.

But the school district operates with a $300 million budget, and none of the four is better equipped than Barefoot to oversee expenditures and make sure students are getting our money’s worth.

School Board members like to tell us “the kids come first” – before money, before politics and, certainly, before personal promotion.

Next week, we’ll find out if that’s true.

Next week, we’ll find out whether our School Board members care enough about our kids and their education to put aside ego, ambition and status to advance the best interests of our district.

If they do, Barefoot will become the board’s new chairman.

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