Two seats on Bentonville School Board still up for grabs in runoff elections for Zones 3 and 5

Tatum Aicklen (top, from left) and Letisha Hinds are the candidates for the Bentonville School Board Zone 5 seat. Candidates for Zone 3 on the board are Jeremy Farmer (bottom, from left) and Blanca Maldonado.
Tatum Aicklen (top, from left) and Letisha Hinds are the candidates for the Bentonville School Board Zone 5 seat. Candidates for Zone 3 on the board are Jeremy Farmer (bottom, from left) and Blanca Maldonado.

BENTONVILLE -- Three races for School Board seats were settled this month, but two others will be decided in runoff elections Dec. 6.

The runoffs are in the Zone 3 and Zone 5 races. Runoffs are required because no candidate received more than 50% of the vote in either race in the Nov. 8 election. A person must be a resident of one of these two zones to vote.

Jeremy Farmer and Blanca Maldonado are the candidates in Zone 3, which covers most of east Bentonville, stretching from Tiger Boulevard at its northernmost point to Southwest Gator Boulevard on the south end.

Tatum Aicklen and Letisha Hinds are vying for Zone 5, which includes south Bentonville, Cave Springs, Highfill and part of Rogers.

Early voting starts Tuesday.

The Zone 3 race originally featured three candidates. On Nov. 8, Farmer received the most votes with 1,800, or 38%. Maldonado finished second with 1,572 votes, or 33%. Another candidate, Matthew Smith, had 1,345 votes, or 29%.

There are 13,059 registered voters in Zone 3, according to the Benton County Clerk's Office.

Farmer said he backed off from campaigning for a while to let people catch a breath after all the campaign noise with this year's midterm election. Now that Thanksgiving is over, he plans to ratchet up his campaign once again.

"Definitely changing tactics a little bit, getting more aggressive following up with specific people, working the voter registration lists a little different than I had previously," Farmer said.

Whereas he didn't do much door-to-door campaigning before November, he said he plans to do more in the coming 10 days. He also intends to increase his social media presence, he said.

Farmer has two daughters, one at Bentonville High School and another at Washington Junior High School. He said he believes his experiences as a PTO president, a volunteer in the schools, and past president and board member of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Northwest Arkansas have prepared him to be an effective School Board member.

Maldonado said Wednesday she hadn't done much campaigning since the election but is planning to do some texting, phone banking and sponsored ads on social media. That's different from how she approached campaigning before the election, when she primarily relied on word of mouth and signs, she said.

"I feel pretty good," she said, when asked how she feels about her chances. "I feel like the people who voted for me are pretty engaged and dedicated to seeing a change -- dedicated to seeing marginalized groups represented."

It's those marginalized groups that inspired her to run, Maldonado said.

"Bentonville is around 11% Latinx, and while that is a small percentage and growing, we can all be better when everyone has a seat at the table," she said.

In the Zone 5 race, the general election results show Aicklen collected 41% of the vote to Hinds' 30%. Yoselin Bolivar finished third, just one vote behind Hinds. There are 15,588 registered voters in Zone 5, according to the Benton County Clerk's Office.

Aicklen said her goal after Thanksgiving would be to reenergize voters and let them know a runoff is taking place.

"I get more response from people I know," she said. "I plan to use those relationships."

Aicklen said she was surprised when early voting came in Nov. 8 and she was in first place. She doesn't know what to expect during the runoff.

"I have never done this before," she said. "It all comes down to turnout, and I don't have a feeling either way."

Aicklen said she's running because her experiences with the School District as a parent of four and a longtime school volunteer qualify her to bring a strong parent perspective to board discussions and decisions. School Board seems like the next step for her, she said.

Hinds, who has a daughter in the district, said she's trying to get the message out that a runoff is happening.

"Getting the vote out is the biggest thing," she said. "Some people didn't know there was a runoff."

Hinds said two issues the district faces are the cost of living in the city, which impacts teachers and other staff, and transportation shortages and bus routes being canceled.

If elected, she said her top priorities will be improving teacher and staff pay, addressing growth and how it's affecting the district, and ensuring schools are inclusive and representative of a unique community.

"If we got here by one vote, we can get a seat at the table," she said.

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 were up for election this year. Once the new board is seated, 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.

Board members elected on Nov. 8 included Joel Dunning in Zone 1, Jennifer Faddis in Zone 2 and Becky Guthrie in Zone 4.

School board positions are nonpartisan and unpaid in Arkansas.

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Bentonville School Board, Zone 3

Blanca Maldonado

Age: 35

Residency: Bentonville for three years

Occupation: Project manager at AMP Sign & Banner in Bentonville

Education: Attended the University of Arkansas

Political Experience: None

Jeremy Farmer

Age: 40

Residency: Bentonville, lifelong resident

Occupation: Senior account manager at Launch Marketing

Education: Attended Northwest Arkansas Community College

Political Experience: None