At her final meeting as a member of the USD 373 Board of Education this December, Barbara Bunting joked about how the administrative staff and current board might soon tire of her presence — as she noted she intends to remain active and vocal about what goes on in the Newton school district.
While the intent to help out has always been there, Bunting noted it was a push from fellow community member Walter Claassen that led her to get involved with the school board, where she ended up serving for 16 years. Claassen advised that as invested as her husband, Bob (President of Bunting Magnetics), was doing business in Newton, she should do the same — and serving on the school board was a natural fit.
"I had a master's in education and felt like it was something I could do to give back to the community, and that I had some interest in, as well as experience in, in a sense of being in education," Bunting said.
Bunting was a teacher in Chicago and, upon moving to Newton 38 years ago, in Wichita — while also gaining some perspective working in the Newton schools (particularly the high school and Chisholm Middle School) as she completed her master's degree.
Even so, she noted her experience as a board member opened her eyes to the responsibilities that come with that role.
"Serving on the board was like peeling an onion," Bunting said. "There were just so many more layers than those who don't serve on the board don't understand."
"I don't think anyone realizes just how difficult sometimes and thankless a school board member's job is until you are exactly in that position," said Newton Superintendent Deb Hamm. "They provide a lot of guidance and a lot of leadership."
Going into her work with the school board, Bunting said she was very much focused on the education aspect and serving in the interest of the students in the Newton schools, but she quickly become aware of a second key aspect to consider — the financial aspect behind the business of running a school district.
Having a truly representative school board helps in both aspects. For Bunting, she said she was glad to have a chance to spend a lot of time in the district schools — especially as the devotion of time outside of board meetings can often get overlooked. It is that extra time and dedication, though, that helped her focus on the big picture in her role on the school board.
"It's really important to spend a lot of time with vision," Bunting said, "so you're hoping that not only do you reflect the community values, but that you're very aware of what's going on and what's possible out there in other school districts and in the future for our students."
Beyond her work with the school board, Bunting has also served with the Community Corrections advisory board and the Kidron Bethel board, among others. She also pursued a greater role in service to education, spending three years on the executive committee of the Kansas Association of School Boards and filling an 18-month term as president of that organization.
Part of the by-laws of the KASB were what drove Bunting to seek out her third term on the school board, but overall, she noted it was a continued commitment to service that led her to spend 16 years on the board of education — especially when seeking re-election the first time.
"At the end of four years, I felt like I was still in a learning process, and so that was what motivated me for my second term," Bunting said. "I felt like, 'gee, I've spent so much time learning, now I'll finally be able to actually make more intelligent decisions and give back.'"
While Bunting said she has no immediate plans to pursue any similar opportunities in service to the community, she admitted that is very ingrained in her. It is part of what led her to be heavily involved in this year's election — even while she was getting ready to transition off the board.
There is a lot to balance in such a role — thinking about the community wants and needs, your own personal values and the board as a whole — but it was one she was willing to take on given what she got back in return.
"I feel, in many ways, that I received much more from this personally," Bunting said. "I received a better personal education than I may have given and the opportunities were great."