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Two incumbents out, Dyer in for Howard school board race

Courts and the JudiciaryRenee Foose

A crowded field of contenders for four open spots on the Howard County Board of Education included a familiar face for the 2014 elections, but two incumbent names were absent.

Ousted school board member Allen Dyer filed Monday, but Brian Meshkin and Frank Aquino did not file for second and third terms, respectively.

Meshkin announced his decision Tuesday, while Aquino could not be reached for comment.

Meshkin cited the growing success of his business, the increasing time constraints therein, and a desire to spend more time with his family as reasons for his decision.

"I do this with a heavy heart," he said at the board meeting Tuesday, about 4 1/2 hours before the filing deadline. "I love serving my community. But there is a time and a season for everything, and at this stage in my life with a company based in California that is growing by leaps and bounds, and the precious time I am missing with my children, I must place the needs of my family first."

Meshkin, who was elected to the board in 2010 on his first run, will serve out the rest of his term, which ends in December.

So there will be at least two new faces on the board come elections, and Dyer hopes to make the cut.

Dyer, first elected to the board on his fourth try in 2008, was ousted from the board in the 2012 primaries, in the midst of impeachment proceedings. He was often at odds with the board majority — before his election and during his term, Dyer was involved in several suits against the board — the board in June 2011 voted to ask the State Board of Education to remove Dyer from his seat, alleging instances of bullying and misconduct.

The board members who voted for Dyer's impeachment — Aquino, Sandra French (both nearing the end of their terms), Ellen Giles and Janet Siddiqui — are still sitting members of the board. Siddiqui, who is in the midst of her term, was filed for a District 13 delegate run Tuesday night, but a late filing by her husband, Nayab, into that race raised questions whether she would continue in her run for delegate or withdraw and stay on the school board. Neither Siddiqui could be reached for comment Tuesday night.

But Dyer said he thinks it would be easier to work with other school board members now.

"The board has changed some and I think that we've had our round-abouts, and even the people who voted to impeach me know that there's lessons to be learned there," he said.

When it comes to the democratic process, Dyer said, disagreements should be accepted and celebrated.

"When it comes to our children, we're going to fight for what's best for them, for these very important issues," he said. "It's not just dollars and cents, it's our future. It's only natural for there to be strong disagreements. We're fortunate to have a democratically elected board in this county so everyone gets their chance to cast their votes and watch their candidates fight."

The impeachment case went before the Office of Administrative Hearings where, more than a year-and-a-half later, Judge Douglas Koteen recommended that the board's request to remove Dyer be upheld. But Dyer had already lost a re-election bid in April 2012, and his term expired that fall. The state board upheld Dyer's removal in May 2013 — about six months after he left the board.

"He has the right to do this — nothing in the impeachment bars him from running for the board," Giles said. "So I wish him luck."

Repeated attempts by Dyer to have the decision reversed have failed; in June 2013, the Court of Special Appeals dismissed Dyer's challenge to the state board's authority on the matter, and in November 2013, Howard County Circuit Court Judge Louis A. Becker said he would reserve a final decision on the same matter (no timetable was set) but agreed that the state board did have the right to remove Dyer, though given that Dyer is out of office any judgment would be moot.

Dyer said he stands by his actions, like revealing accurate information surrounding an ethics charge against him in 2011, after false information had already been leaked to the public, or sharing legal advice deemed confidential by the board.

"My number one goal isn't to be the best buddy of any board member, but to be responsive to the people who vote for me and do what's in their best interest," he said. "Sometimes that means ruffling some feathers."

Dyer also said he was spurred to run for the board again after seeing Superintendent Renee Foose in action. Foose has been superintendent since July 2012, about five months before Dyer left office.

"I think Dr. Foose is very interested in charting an aggressive direction for the future, and that has me excited," Dyer said. "I think the four years I was on the board, the board was interested in treading water. When Dr. Foose came in, there was an effort to talk to parents, to the public, to come up with a plan for going forward for the future and I'm excited about that."

Dyer joins a field of 13 candidates that includes incumbents French, Cindy Vaillancourt, former candidates Olga Butler, Leslie Kornreich, Corey Andrews and newcomers Christine O'Connor, Zaneb Beams, Dan Furman, Mike Smith, Tom Baek, Bess Altwerger and Maureen Evans Arthurs. That field will be whittled down to eight in the June 24 primaries.Dyer said his filing came after a lengthy conversation with his wife, Tamara.

"Public education is very important to me," he said. "It's where I came from. I think I'm doing what I should be doing in offering to do what I can. I served four years with this board, and I'm fairly familiar with how it operates and how it doesn't operate. I think I would be valuable for another term. But I don't have any illusions about it."

Meshkin's decision came after a lengthy discussion with his wife, too. He said Tuesday that he and his wife, Catherine, spent six months considering whether Meshkin should seek a second term.

"There are two really important, really fleeting things in my life," Meshkin said after his announcement. "There's my kids — they're only going to be this age once."

The second thing, Meshkin said, was his company, Proove Biosciences, which is based in California. Meshkin started the personalized pain medication company in 2009. His previous business venture had failed; he couldn't make it profitable, so starting another company in the midst of the recession while his wife was in law school was "a scary time."

But his current business is successful — Proove Biosciences has had two years of profitability and employs more than 100 people.

"The company could pass $1 billion this year, and you don't get a chance like that more than once in your lifetime," he said. "Those stars have aligned right now and I have to seize this moment. I think we can change the future of medicine."

Meshkin said he might return to public service when his children are older.

Meshkin has advocated for numerous programs and practices implemented by the Howard County Public School System during his term, like digital education, Lean Six-Sigma processes to streamline the district's operations, and a task force for student mental health. This coming year, the school system is also looking at $100,000 consulting contract to review student enrollment projections and redistricting, which Meshkin had also long advocated for.

"Thank you for everything you have done," French said after Meshkin's announcement. "You have sparked us, you have sometimes irritated us, you have pushed us and you have worked with us. I wish and you beautiful family well."

Staff writer Amanda Yeager contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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