MILTON — Dozens of Santa Rosa County educators and their supporters attended the school board’s July 27 meeting, which included a public hearing on the budget for the upcoming school year.

Several educators approached the board and voiced their concerns. Most of the teachers wore red in solidarity, and the Santa Rosa Professional Educators distributed free red shirts to those in attendance. Every seat in the board room was filled and dozens of people lined the walkways and sat on the floor.

Virginia Rushing has taught in Santa Rosa County for 18 out of the 23 years she has been an educator. She approached the board and said that she loves the district she works in; however, she is confused.

“I’m trying to just understand as a parent…and a teacher…why I would have to go to a neighboring county to make an equitable amount of money,” Rushing said. “The hours we put in, and taking second and third jobs… I myself just applied to work online to teach children in China… I have three kids in college and I can’t afford not to have another job. After [this] long teaching…it just doesn’t make sense.”

Kelsey Womack, who teaches at Pace High School, shared her concerns.

“Being an annual contract teacher means living in constant fear that I will not be good enough this year or will make the wrong person upset and I will be out of a job,” Womack said. “This lack of job security doesn’t mean that I can stand by and let unfairness occur without trying to do something.”

“... I am here today because, in my line of work, I find that one person does have the ability to cause change… We need to feel appreciated and we want positive changes in this county so we can pass that positivity to our students.”

Patricia Hansen, a member of the Santa Rosa County Democratic Executive Committee, presented the board with a petition signed by more than 1,100 county residents showing community support for a pay increase for teachers.

“We as citizens of this county feel there is nothing more important for the future of our county than our teachers,” Hansen said. “We have wonderful teachers here and they are not only educators, they are mentors for our children. Santa Rosa County teachers are unfortunately some of the lowest paid in the state.”

Marilyn Middleton, a retired educator from Santa Rosa County, showed her support for county teachers by voicing her concerns to the board.

“I know where you are, and I know how you feel somewhat, but we never had this happen to us while I was teaching,” Middleton said to the audience. “We all know the money is there. Please do not allow any one person to convince you otherwise.”

Vice Chairman Diane Scott took the place of Chairman Scott Peden at the meeting since Peden was absent. Scott informed the audience that no vote on the budget was to be made at this meeting; the final public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 7, where a final vote will be made.