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Strong primary showing bolsters Dyer's bid to return to school board

Laws and Legislation

A year ago, the Maryland State Board of Education upheld a Howard County school board request to oust fellow member Allen Dyer — and it didn't matter that the Ellicott City resident's term had long since expired.

The board's decision culminated a protracted battle between Dyer and fellow board members and marked what many believe was the first time in state history an elected school board member was ordered to vacate his seat.

This week Dyer took a step closer to staging a dramatic return.

In Tuesday's primary election for four vacant Howard County school board seats, he finished seventh among 13 candidates in a race where the top eight vote-getters advance to the general election.

"I feel invigorated," Dyer said. "I want to talk to my supporters and work out a campaign approach that will provide the best opportunity to move into the top four on the general election, which is no small task.

"I've been encouraged by the voters. You can't help but feel empowered by the voters if they choose you to go forward."

Dyer said he recognizes he still has work to do to return to the board. According to the Howard County Board of Elections' unofficial returns as of Wednesday, Dyer finished with 6,032 votes, (6.3 percent), putting him more than 3,000 votes behind fourth-place finisher Dan Furman. The top two finishers in the primary were current board members Cindy Vaillancourt (13.6 percent) and Sandra French (12.4 percent).

Still, Dyer said, "I'm obviously pleased to have passed through the partisan primary, and I'm really looking forward to the general election, when independent voters have their say.

"I see moving up to the No. 4 or 3 position to be difficult," he added. "It will require a lot of explaining and discussions to the community, but I think it can be done."

Dyer was elected to the school board in 2008 on his fourth run for a seat. During his term in office, he spearheaded the school board's public apology for the school district's past history of segregation, but he was probably better known for being at odds with board members he accused of forming a voting bloc on most legislation.

Dyer filed lawsuits against the board before and during his term as a member. His often rocky relationship with some members came to a head in June 2011, when the panel voted to request that the state board remove him, alleging transgressions including breaches of confidentiality requirements and bullying.

The case was sent to an administrative law judge, who in December 2012 recommended to the state board Dyer's removal, accusing him of misconduct in office. The recommendation came about a week after Dyer's term ended and months after he lost in his re-election bid in the primary.

The state board upheld Dyer's removal in May of last year, about six month after his term ended. Dyer has since made appeals to the ruling, saying that, if noting else, he seeks to clear his name. His appeals have been unsuccessful; on Tuesday, he said the matter is still under appeal.

Yet Dyer's dismissal applies only to his previous term. He filed to run for the board in February, and his resurgence comes as yet another board member is under scrutiny: Vaillancourt gained the most votes in the primary under the shadow of a board resolution accusing of her of twice breaching the confidentiality of closed sessions within the past year.

Vaillancourt has accused her colleagues of attempting to defame her on the eve of the primary.

"I think it shows that people in the community are not happy with the direction the school system is taking right now," Vaillancourt said this week. "Many people said that when they did what they did to me, they looked at Allen and said, 'Maybe he wasn't the problem.' "

Even before the votes came in, Dyer said the election was scarcely a defining moment. Win or lose, he will remain engaged, he said.

"I don't look at it too much in terms of what it holds for my future. I look at it in terms of what it holds for Howard County public schools' future," Dyer said. "I've had the honor of serving on the board for one term, and once the voters give you the opportunity to serve, that right there is a career thing.

"Once you're given an opportunity to serve, it shifts from a career thing to 'What is your legacy?' " he said. "And my legacy is to try and move public schools in Howard County to being more integrated, where all children have an equal opportunity to achieve whatever they're capable of achieving."

jburris@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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