Editorial: Allen Dyer's bittersweet departure from school board

In another few days, Allen Dyer's tenure on the Howard County Board of Education will be over.

And that is both a blessing and a shame.

For more than a decade, first as a watchdog crusading for more openness on the school board and against the status quo, and for the past four years, as a member of the board, Dyer has been a player on the Howard County public education scene. He has infuriated and nudged, and boldly championed causes that were often unpopular and quixotic.

Dyer's departure is a blessing because his presence on the board, as it turns out, probably did more harm than good. Anyone who observed board meetings saw how prickly, often counterproductive, he could be — turning discussions into a personal crusades, driving other board members to distraction.

Allen Dyer, to put it mildly, is not skilled in the art of compromise.

Nor was it just his fellow board members alienated by Dyer's ways. Despite the clear advantages that come with being an incumbent, Dyer was rejected in his bid for a second four-year term, finishing eighth in a field of 14 candidates in the April primary election.

Granted, the conflicts were not all Dyer's fault. Tension between Dyer and other board members, who were the target of his uncivil barbs, challenges and even lawsuits, meant that Dyer's comments and potentially useful suggestions were often dismissed out of hand by other board members. That resentment, we have long suspected, was behind the misguided effort to have the state oust Dyer from the board — an effort that board members refused to halt, despite the cost to taxpayers, even after Dyer's departure was assured with his loss at the polls.

That's the shame of his leaving the board. Because Dyer, a less strident Dyer, could have played a useful role on the school board.

Any elected body, or appointed body for that matter, runs the risk of becoming too insular and closed, its members adopting a go-along-to-get-along kind of attitude that brooks little opposition and considers precious few new ideas. A willingness to stand up and say that the emperor has no clothes is a rare and valuable thing.

In addition to his willingness (some might say eagerness) to be that person, Dyer also could be a source of good ideas. It was Dyer, for example, who was responsible for the board's decision earlier this month to officially apologize for the county school system's late desegregation 60 years ago — a largely symbolic move, but an important, useful one.

"I would imagine there will be less public understanding of any kind of problems that come up, and there will be more of, 'Let's keep it within the family and try to work things out; and if they don't, let's go along with the majority,' " former County Council member Lloyd Knowles speculated, when asked by The Baltimore Sun what Dyer's departure could mean to the school board. "Too many boards adopt that kind of thing, and that's why they have whistle-blower laws in government and the commercial area."

Whether he runs again for the board or not, we suspect Allen Dyer will remain a player on the county public education scene. It's hard to imagine him not doing so. And his doing it from the outside once again is likely to make both him and the school board more effective.

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