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David Dyer running to fill Brian Barefoot’s shoes on School Board

As recently as a month ago, 74-year-old island resident David Dyer, who enjoyed a wildly successful career as a retail executive with some of the most-recognized apparel companies in the world before retiring in December 2015, had no political ambitions.

Now he’s running for Brian Barefoot’s seat on the School Board – with the incumbent’s endorsement.

What happened?

“When I ran in 2020, my intent was to serve one term, during which I would do what I could to support the new superintendent in his efforts to give our community the quality school district it deserves,” Barefoot said last week. “I did not plan on running for a second term.”

In fact, Barefoot said he decided last March to seek a second term primarily to “protect” Superintendent Dr. David Moore’s job by preventing a politically motivated, hard-right takeover of the School Board.

All the time, however, the former Indian River Shores mayor, now 80, hoped someone who shared his belief in Moore – and the need to maintain the positive momentum that has earned our district an “A” grade from the Florida Department of Education and a 96-percent graduation rate than ranks No. 3 in the state – would step forward and succeed him.

Now, someone has.

Someone of substance. Someone with a big-business background, a global reputation for turning around troubled companies, and strong connection to education. Someone who can and should win.

So Barefoot is suspending his re-election campaign and throwing his full support behind Dyer, who said he was planning to file the necessary paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections Office this week and, as of Monday, had no opponent in the race.

“I was delighted to learn that David had decided to run,” Barefoot said. “I look forward to doing everything I can to help him and back his candidacy. He’s a smart, very successful businessman. Adding someone with his resume to replace me preserves a good balance of backgrounds on the board.

“We’ve made so much progress under Dr. Moore’s leadership the past four years, and it’s important that we maintain and build on that momentum,” he added. “David is abundantly qualified to help him take the district to an even higher level.”

Advancing Moore’s agenda, Dyer said, is what motivated him to run in Barefoot’s place.

The current vice chairman of The Learning Alliance, which promotes children’s literacy and has contributed mightily to the school district’s recent success, Dyer sees Moore as a budding superstar in public education.

Dyer said losing Moore at this stage – and disrupting the progress that has been made in our public schools since the superintendent’s arrival – would be a crippling setback for the district.

And he knows such a scenario is possible, given the state and national attention Moore is getting as the district continues to improve, sometimes in dramatic fashion.

“David Moore can write his own ticket,” Dyer said.

Moore’s contract expires this summer – unless it’s permitted to roll over for another three years on June 30 – but Dyer said he believes the superintendent likes the community and wants to stay to finish the job he started here, if not longer.

“Finally, there is hope in Indian River County,” Dyer said. “I’m very encouraged by the results we’ve seen thus far, and the only way to guarantee that this success becomes embedded into our culture is to keep the momentum going. To do that, you need continuity.

“I don’t want to see us go backwards,” he added, “but that often happens when you bring in a new superintendent and start over.”

Dyer, who has been visiting Vero Beach regularly since 2008 and has been a full-time resident since 2015, knows plenty about starting over.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University with an engineering degree and spending a brief stint teaching mathematics at the American School of Asuncion in Paraguay, Dyer spent most of his adult life fixing troubled companies.

“David Dyer was one of the top half-dozen turnaround guys in the retail world,” said Barefoot, who brought a similar stature to the board, having built a successful career in investment banking at Paine-Webber and Merrill Lynch, followed by a seven-year run as president of Massachusetts’ Babson College.

For those who don’t know: Dyer served as president and chief executive officer of Tommy Hilfiger, Lands’ End and Chico’s FAS, after launching his retail career as an executive trainee at Miami-based Burdine’s department stores.

He enters the race with a reputation built on knowledge, experience and professionalism – and with a tireless work ethic.

He also brings a recognizable name locally, as a result of the Dyer automobile dealerships in the area, but he said the business is completely owned and operated by his two sons, Will and John, and his daughter-in-law, Tatiana.

“I don’t own the dealerships, and I don’t have anything to do with them,” Dyer said, adding that he hopes running for the board in these politically polarized times won’t cause his adult children or their business any difficulty.

Though he said he never considered himself to be a “political guy,” he expects someone else to jump into the race and knows he probably will be attacked by his opposition.

“Having done turnarounds in business, I’ve had arrows shot at me,” Dyer said. “I know it’s a political campaign, and I understand it might not be pleasant.”

Yet here he is.

Given his accomplishments, Dyer certainly doesn’t need to win a school board race to raise his stature or pad his legacy. And as Barefoot pointed out, the political environment is more hostile now than it was when he ran in 2020.

“When I ran, we didn’t have all this nonsense we have now,” Barefoot said. “Now we’ve got the Moms For Liberty and culture wars and the politicization of public education, and he’s still willing to run.

“The climate today is so much more challenging than it was four years ago,” he added.

“You’ve got to admire David for wanting to do this, especially at this time, but he knows what he’s walking into. Kudos to him.

“He deserves the community’s support.”

How would Dyer respond to the bogus culture wars and other distractions concocted by the Moms in a desperate attempt to become relevant in a community that has overwhelmingly rejected them?

He said he will focus on the children and the quality of their education.

“As far as I’m concerned: Whatever the culture wars were, they’ve been fought and settled,” Dyer said, adding that he opposes the concept of partisan school board races. “Can we get over it and let the kids win for a change?”

That sentiment, alone, is a reason to root for him.

But if you need another reason: Dyer said that if he gets elected, he doesn’t want to be paid a salary and won’t accept any medical benefits for his time on the School Board.

“If they have to pay me, pay me $1 a year,” he said. “But I really don’t want it. I just want to come in and serve.”

And for all the right reasons.

Just ask Barefoot.

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