Barefoot leaving School Board as a result of move


Brian Barefoot has decided to resign from the School Board – but not for the reasons some might suspect.

He is not stepping down from the dais because he has been targeted by the governor, who was so wed to ideology that he ignored the health emergency in our school district at the peak of the COVID pandemic.

Or because a local fringe group marching under the Moms For Liberty banner repeatedly wasted everyone’s time with concocted culture-war issues that had nothing to do with improving the academic success of our children and grandchildren.

It wasn’t even the damage being done by the politicization of public education, especially in Florida, where school boards have become partisan battlefields and our students’ futures are the casualties.

Barefoot’s reasons are more personal, more human, more compelling.

They are closer to home.

They are, in fact, about his home, which is no longer at John’s Island, where he and his wife, Pam, had lived since 2000, and from where he served as mayor of Indian River Shores from 2013 to 2018.

Last week, Barefoot left the seaside town and moved across the lagoon to Oak Harbor – a change of address that took him out of the district he has represented since being elected to the School Board in 2020.

And because board members must reside in the districts they represent, the move required him to resign, which he planned to do this week.

“Certainly, I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to finish my term,” Barefoot said last weekend. “Not being able to continue serving on the board was the most difficult part of the decision to move.

“But my wife and I made a decision – for personal and lifestyle reasons – that we needed to downsize our home,” he continued. “After looking around the area, including a few places on the island, we decided that moving to Oak Harbor was the best choice for us.

“We found the perfect house in a community where we had a number of friends and neighbors who had previously lived at John’s Island and others we knew from Vermont, where we have a summer home.”

For those wondering: Barefoot said the move couldn’t wait until he completed his four-year term in November.

Not only did Barefoot have an eager buyer for the John’s Island home, but both he and his wife are recovering from health issues – his knee and her heart – and neither wanted to endure another seasonal transition, only to return to Vero Beach to sell, buy and move next fall.

“We were not going to go through another cycle of finishing the season here, heading north for the summer and having to come back in the fall to sell the house,” Barefoot said. “It takes a lot to maintain a big house.

“The list of things we’ve got to do gets harder every year, and we’ve had a couple of medical concerns,” he added. “We’re getting old. I’ll be 81 in April. Pam will be 79 at the end of April. We decided we’ve got to slow it down.”

Why didn’t Barefoot, who announced last week that he would suspend his re-election campaign and endorse island resident David Dyer for his District 5 seat on the School Board, say anything about the move earlier?

He said he didn’t want to go public until he was sure the closing on the purchase of the Oak Harbor house – which was being completely remodeled – would take place last week as scheduled.

Barefoot, who said he planned to formally resign on Wednesday, did not attend or participate in the board’s Feb. 12 workshop.

“I wasn’t going to lose a house that was perfect for us, just for nine more months on the board,” he said. “I chose to resign in a time frame that fit my family.”

His early departure, however, is cause for concern – because nobody knows what Gov. Ron DeSantis will do with the vacancy.

As of Monday afternoon, Dyer, 74, was the only candidate running for the District 5 seat. He was a wildly successful retail executive who served as president and chief executive officer of several companies, including Tommy Hilfiger and Lands’ End, and has deep Florida roots.

He’s also a well-connected longtime Republican who said he’d answer the call.

“I would have preferred that Brian finish his term, of course, but it would be great to be appointed,” Dyer said. “The response to my candidacy thus far has been very positive. A lot of people are surprised I’m running, but they’re also happy.

“It’s up to the governor,” he added. “I’m a candidate for the position, so I’m willing to serve. If he wants to appoint me, I’ll step in and serve immediately.”

Might Dyer’s credentials and immediate availability, along with his years of supporting education, be enough for DeSantis to appoint him to replace Barefoot?

Or will the governor continue to embrace the Florida-born Moms For Liberty and choose someone aligned with that group’s hard-right agenda?

Remember: It was the Moms group that provided the enemies list DeSantis used to target incumbent School Board members around the state – including Barefoot and Peggy Jones in this county – for defeat in their elections.

You can be sure Moms co-founder Tiffany Justice, who often embarrassed herself during her one failed term as a School Board member here, will be calling Tallahassee as soon as she learns of Barefoot’s resignation.

If Justice is successful in convincing DeSantis to appoint one of her group’s local allies to join incumbents Jackie Rosario and Gene Posca, the Moms will seize control of the board.

That should worry you.

Fortunately, Superintendent David Moore’s three-year contract rolled over last summer, so his job is safe until at least June 2026. And Teri Barenborg, who was elected to a one-year term as the School Board’s chair in November, cannot be removed without cause.

But even with a slim 3-2 majority – and in only nine months – the damage a Moms-run board could do to undermine the district’s success under Moore is alarming.

It’s also possible, though, that DeSantis will not fill the vacancy and allow the voters to choose Barefoot’s replacement in this summer’s elections.

One thing is for sure: His decision will be politically driven.

“The politicization of public education is very concerning to me,” Barefoot said, “and it should be to everybody else.”

Barefoot, who remains critical of DeSantis’ decision to inject himself into School Board races by targeting incumbents and endorsing candidates in violation of the Florida constitution, spent most of his three years on the dais trying to keep the district’s focus on education and student outcomes.

He was especially supportive of Moore, who began his duties in December 2019 and almost immediately was forced to contend with the coronavirus pandemic.

“He had a vision, and I bought into that vision because I thought he was the perfect fit for this district,” Barefoot said. “He needed to change the culture, and you do that through leadership.

“I supported his leadership.”

Barefoot brought to the board not only his Wall Street experience – he enjoyed a tremendously successful career with Merrill Lynch and Paine Webber – but also the knowledge and wisdom he gained in his seven years as the president of Massachusetts’ Babson College.

He said he was honored to be given the opportunity to “make a difference” and “have a positive impact” on the education of young people in our community.

“I will miss Brian a lot,” Jones said. “He always put the students first, and the background that be brought to the board was second to none. I learned from him. I have the utmost respect for him.”

Barefoot said he’s confident Dyer, if appointed or elected, will continue to give Moore the support needed to keep the school district moving in the right direction.

“You have to be impressed with what David Moore has accomplished, but the job is nowhere near finished,” Barefoot said. “That’s why it’s so important that someone like David Dyer was willing to step up in these polarized times and run for my seat.

“We need to keep the momentum going,” he added. “Regardless of all the obstacles and distractions, the primary mission of this board must be educating children. I did what I could to help.”

And now he’s moving on.

“That’s life,” Barefoot said. “Sometimes you need to make tough decisions.”

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