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story.lead_photo.caption Matt Burgess (left) and Kirk Barnett

BENTONVILLE -- This town has seen some testy School Board races over the past few years, as political differences between the candidates have bubbled up and led campaign supporters to sling mud at the opposing camp.

This year's contest between Matt Burgess and Kirk Barnett for the Zone 6 seat seems to be a break from that. Neither man has anything negative to say about the other. They appear to agree on most school-related issues. They even had breakfast together Friday.

Kirk Barnett

Age: 38

Residency: Bentonville, since 2008

Employment: Account manager for Spin Master

Education: Bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Alabama

Political experience: None

Matt Burgess


Age: 47

Residency: Bentonville, since 2006

Employment: Senior counsel at Walmart

Education: Law degree from University of Missouri, Kansas City; bachelor’s degree in education from University of Missouri, Columbia

Political experience: Bentonville School Board, 2013 to present

"He is a good man," Burgess said about Barnett.

"Matt's great," Barnett said. "We've been messaging back and forth. I appreciate him approaching me and creating this conversation and rapport, because there's enough dissension in the world of politics. We don't need it in the school board race."

The two will face off in the general election Nov. 6. The winner gets a five-year term on the board.

Act 910 of the 2017 legislative session changed the timing of school board elections from the third Tuesday of September to either May or November. Bentonville was one of 33 boards in the state that chose November. The other 202 districts chose May.

The board's Zone 6 covers parts of central and south Bentonville. Only people who live in the zone are eligible to vote. Residents may visit to find their zone.

Burgess, 47, is pursuing his second five-year term on the board. Barnett, 38, said he can't think of a particular issue on which he would have voted differently from Burgess. But Barnett said he offers a different perspective.

"We're two very different individuals," Barnett said. "We've had two different paths in life, two different perspectives that we'd bring to the table."

Barnett, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., said he'd bring no agenda to the board. He served the last two school years as president of the parent-teacher organization at Willowbrook Elementary School, which gave him an up-close view of the work administrators and teachers did there.

"The ultimate reason I'm running is, I just want to try to do as much as I can to continue the excellence of Bentonville schools. This is a way I felt I could make an impact," said Barnett, who has a third-grader and a fifth-grader in the School District.

Both men cite growth as the biggest issue confronting the district. Bentonville's enrollment has grown nearly 40 percent over the past 10 years, which has forced the district to make several changes in attendance zones.

"One of the reasons I would be a good fit is I bring a different perspective to the table than some of the other board members," Barnett said. "I have lived through those changes as a parent, versus being the one implementing the changes."

Burgess, a native of Springfield, Mo., earned his bachelor's degree in education. He accepted a job as a high school teacher and coach in Missouri the day before he was accepted to law school.

He decided to forego a career in education and now works as an attorney for Walmart, but he retained a desire to do something with schools.

Burgess points out numerous accomplishments of the board over the past five years, including expansion of the alternative learning program, the launch of the Ignite program, and twice raising salaries for teachers. The board also passed a millage increase last year to pay for four new buildings.

Burgess has a long history of volunteer work besides his time on the board. He has served in the Lunch Buddies program for seven years, mentoring a young person during weekly visits to school. He said he's coached 30 football, softball, baseball and soccer teams and served on the Bentonville Youth Football Association board.

"I've always tried to put the students and teachers first," Burgess said. "I've always tried to be fiscally responsible with the tax dollars, and will continue to be, if given the opportunity. I like the job. I like being there and having a voice that's sometimes in the middle, rarely on the fringes."

Burgess has two children in the district. His wife is a math teacher at Bright Field Middle School.

NW News on 10/08/2018

Print Headline: Candidates: No bad blood in Burgess, Barnett board race

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