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School Board hopeful Dyer draws impressive crowd at fundraiser

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of March 28, 2024)

School Board candidate David Dyer attracted a large crowd to his first campaign fundraising event last week at the Quail Valley River Club, where the retired retail executive presented compelling reasons for seeking election to the District 5 seat and his qualifications for the job.

He also provided a rousing endorsement of School Board incumbent Peggy Jones, citing her decades of experience in public education and staunch support of Superintendent David Moore’s leadership, which in four years has produced a district that recently received an “A” grade from the state and achieved a 96-percent graduation rate that ranks No. 3 in Florida.

“She deserves to be re-elected,” Dyer said of Jones, a former Sebastian River High School principal who was voted onto the board in 2020 and announced last summer she was running for a second term.

Jones welcomed Dyer’s kind words, saying she was “simply honored” to receive his public backing in her District 2 race against political newcomer Rob MacCallum, who owns a local real-estate agency.

She said she met Dyer at a school tour last fall and was “impressed with his knowledge regarding early learning and, more importantly, that he cared so much about our public schools,” adding that his business background is “second to none.”

Dyer, a 74-year-old island resident, enjoyed a successful career as a retail executive, running some of the world’s most-recognized apparel companies before retiring in 2015.

He served as president and chief executive of Tommy Hilfiger, Lands’ End and Chico’s after launching his career as an executive trainee at Miami-based Burdine’s department stores.

He also brought to his campaign a familiar name, locally: His two sons, Will and John, and daughter-in-law Tatiana own and operate the Dyer automobile dealerships in the area.

But it was Dyer’s background in education that grabbed the attention of the fundraiser’s audience, which included current and former elected officials, candidates for local office and prominent residents.

The guests included: Sheriff Eric Flowers and Captain Milo Thornton, who is challenging his boss in this summer’s election; outgoing School Board member Brian Barefoot, former mayor of Indian River Shores; Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno; Vero Beach City Councilwoman and County Commission candidate Tracey Zudans, as well as her husband, Val, a former mayor and councilman; former councilman Randy Old; and former Indian River Shores Town Council member Frannie Atchison.

Among the others attending the event were: former AOL president Ray Oglethorpe, founder of The Learning Alliance; local builder Don Proctor; Linda Teetz, a major Republican fundraiser; and John McConnell, a former ABC Radio executive, current media agent and Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation board member.

It was Oglethorpe, in fact, who persuaded Dyer to join the alliance’s wildly successful efforts to improve children’s literacy in the community. Dyer resigned as the alliance’s vice chairman after filing in February to run for a seat on the School Board.

Dyer’s opponent is island resident Kevin McDonald, who has lived in the county for 10 years and is a former chairman of the Geneva School of Manhattan, a New York City classical private school.

Both men are hoping to succeed Barefoot, who was elected in 2020 and announced last month that he would not seek a second term, instead endorsing Dyer for his seat on the dais.

Only days later – on Feb. 21, after he moved his residence from John’s Island to Oak Harbor – Barefoot resigned from the board, mistakenly believing he no longer lived in District 5 and was obligated to do so.

The next day, after learning the County Commission had redrawn the district lines after the 2020 Census and that his new home was still in the district he was elected to represent, Barefoot rescinded his resignation and asked Governor Ron DeSantis to allow him to remain on the board for the remaining eight months of his term.

As of Monday, DeSantis hadn’t acknowledged Barefoot’s resignation or rescission, and the governor’s press office had not responded to emailed inquiries from Vero Beach 32963.

If DeSantis doesn’t allow Barefoot to rescind his resignation and return to the board, the governor could either appoint a replacement or let the seat remain vacant until November.

Barefoot said he spoke with a state education department official about his board seat earlier this month, but he has heard nothing since. He called the governor’s inaction “disappointing.”

Dyer said he received a call from the Governor’s Office in mid-March, when a member of DeSantis’ vetting staff interviewed him about his background – prompting him to wonder if he might be appointed to fill Barefoot’s seat.

But, as of Monday, he hadn’t heard anything new from Tallahassee.

Dyer, who believes he’s well-qualified to replace Barefoot and provide the support Moore needs to maintain the upward momentum the district has created the past four years, said he would accept the appointment if offered.

If not, Dyer is determined to win the election.

He alerted his audience to a new state policy that requires seasonal residents – or anyone who in the past has voted by mail and wishes to do so this summer – to renew their requests for absentee ballots.

“The Aug. 20 primary is very, very important,” Dyer said. “Here in Indian River County, most elections are won or lost in the primary. Unfortunately, on Aug. 20, a lot of people are out of town.”

Barefoot, who went to the podium to introduce Dyer to the gathering, also noted the urgency attached to this summer’s election.

“We’ve got momentum, and it’s really important to get the right people on our School Board,” Barefoot said, adding that it’s helpful to get input from someone on the dais with a business background. “I’m delighted David Dyer agreed to run.”