BENTONVILLE -- Two men are competing for the School Board's Zone 1 seat in this year's election.
Erron Smith and Joel Dunning, both political newcomers, will be on the ballot in the Nov. 8 election. Early voting starts Monday.
The Bentonville School Board has seven members. Until this year, each member represented a specific zone of the School District; the board agreed to restructure itself so five positions are based on geographic zones and two are at-large. Residents therefore get to vote for their zone representative and for both of the at-large members when those seats come up for election.
Each of the five zoned seats are up for election this year. Once the board is seated after the November elections, members will draw a term length ranging from one to five years so their terms will be staggered. Board members normally serve five-year terms.
Zone 1 covers the part of Bella Vista east of Bella Vista Way along with much of north and northeast Bentonville.
School board positions are nonpartisan and unpaid in Arkansas.
Both candidates said they want to see accountability in the Bentonville School District.
Dunning said he has ideas to help schools get "back to the basics" of education.
"We need to focus on what we want our students to know and be able to do," he said. "How do we know they have learned it? What are we going to do for the students that have not learned it?"
Dunning said he would work to eliminate social promotion -- advancing a student to a higher grade level based on age, not competency.
Smith said he wants all children to have the same opportunity his children have in the Bentonville School District -- to receive the best possible education. The schools should prepare students with the basic academic and leadership skills to succeed in life, he said.
"The schools must prepare these students regardless of if they are going to college, going to trade school or directly into the workforce, or going into the military," Smith said. "As a son and grandson of farmers, I am living proof that public education can transform your life and give you the opportunity."
Both candidates also mentioned support for teachers.
Smith said one of his goals would be to work toward continued innovation on teacher compensation.
"With inflation out of control and the cost of living rising in Bentonville, we're going to have to continue to invest if we want to continue to attract and retain the best teachers in the state," Smith said.
"We must improve on empowering our teachers in the educational process," Dunning said. "This means letting teachers help build their schedule through collaboration choosing planning periods when possible and adjusting class lists. Collaborating on standards and creating power standards, which is the minimum students must learn and be able to do in order to be promoted in the school."
Dunning also wants data-driven teacher pay increases, support for classroom discipline and training for teachers and staff, he said.
Both candidates said they know growth is an issue.
"Continuing to plan for growth in a way that meets our community's needs while remaining financially conservative and accountable to our taxpayers is going to be an ongoing challenge for us," Smith said. "We're going to have to stretch our dollars to meet our district's needs."
Population growth will leave the district in need of new buildings, new teachers and new school buses, he said.
Dunning said to accommodate the growth, the district should balance the enrollment of the schools, improve hiring practices and find the most talented educators and train them.
Bentonville School Board
Residency: Little Flock/Bentonville for 13 years
Occupation: Corporate governance attorney for Walton Enterprises in Bentonville
Education: Law degree and bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism, both from University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Political Experience: None
Residency: Bentonville for six years
Occupation: Electrical engineer for Unity Energy; retired educator
Education: Master’s degree in counseling and administration from the University of Phoenix; bachelor’s degree in petroleum geology from Metro University in Denver
Political Experience: None