The race for Santa Rosa County School Board's District 5 seat is the only school board race in the county this year that does not include an incumbent candidate.
Wei Ueberschaer, the current chairperson of the board and District 5 representative, is not running for reelection.
The three candidates vying for the open seat come from diverse professional backgrounds.
Scott Peden, who previously served on the board between 2010-2018 before he lost an election to Ueberschaer, spent his career in the cable telecommunications business.
Gregory Seltzer is a retired university professor who spent 30 years teaching college students about finance.
Pete Peters is a retired Vietnam veteran who served as a Marine Corps pilot and instructor and spent decades working as a JROTC instructor in Escambia County schools.
Meet Gregory N. Seltzer: Candidate, Santa Rosa Schools District 5
Scott Peden did not complete the candidate Q&A
Pete Peters did not complete the candidate Q&A
Peden had a long career in the cable telecommunications business.
"That's a fancy word for cable TV," he said.
He started out as a cable installer, and over the course of approximately 31 years, he climbed his way up the corporate ladder to a regional manager position working for such companies as TCI, AT&T and Comcast along the way.
He spent about eight years at Communications Unlimited working with cable TV installation contractors before retiring altogether about four years ago, he said.
Peden said he is the only one of the three candidates with any prior experience on the school board, noting he brings eight years of experience to the table.
"My opponents have no experience in school budgets. You're talking about a $400 million budget and thousands of employees. We're the largest employer in Santa Rosa County, which takes me back to my previous job when I had to make budgets, and they were multimillion dollar budgets," he said.
If elected, his No. 1 priority would be continuing to improve school safety.
"The district has been doing a good job on hardening the schools, but there's still work to be done," Peden said. "I mean, you can always improve on safety. So, I would like to see the budget for safety probably increased a little bit more over the next several years."
District 3 race: Longtime incumbent faces newcomer for Santa Rosa County School Board
His next goals would be to increase teacher salaries and improve teachers' benefits.
"Teachers. That's probably going to be the biggest hurdle that we have to jump over, is that there is a shortage of teachers everywhere," he said. "Not just Santa Rosa County, not just in Florida, but it's everywhere."
Peden said he would work to ensure there is time during the work day set aside for teachers to plan their lessons while on the clock. His wife has been a public school teacher for 34 years.
"I'm well in tune with teachers and their issues," Peden said. "Their work doesn't stop when they get off. They come home and didn't have time to look at emails all day, didn't have time to look at texts from parents, the administration and from this, that and the other.
"When do you have time to grade papers?" he asked. "You have to do it at home or do it on the weekend. They put in way more hours than people think they do. Like their planning time. They have planning times, but it gets interrupted by a lot of things. Planning time should be sacred."
Seltzer has taught at both secondary and college levels. He started out his teaching career as an eighth-grade social studies teacher in Harford County, Maryland, before briefly teaching community college and ultimately earning a doctorate in finance from the University of Maryland.
He worked as a professor at the University of Maryland for 11 years and Stevenson University for 19 years teaching subjects that included finance, financial accounting, macro and micro economics, business administration, quantitative analysis and personal financial planning.
He retired as a full professor and moved to Santa Rosa County about four years ago.
"I'm running for the school board because I have the time, and, I believe, the experience," Seltzer said.
He previously served on the Santa Rosa County Library Board of Trustees as its budget and finance committee chair, and he hopes to bring his financial acumen to the school board.
"I think I'd bring that financial expertise to the school board, because obviously the budget drives the entire school system," Seltzer said. "Along with my experience on the Library Board, I think that I'd be able to look for savings and return on investment, because, after all, it is our county tax dollars."
Seltzer said he believes in raising teacher pay as a way to increase teacher retention and guard against any attrition.
"We lose teachers, and we shouldn't begin the beginning of the school year with empty teaching positions, and I think that we need to be competitive with our teacher salaries and treat them like professionals," Seltzer said.
If elected to the school board, he would push to expand vocational training options for students, he said.
"I know, from my experience, that not every person needs or should go to college," Seltzer said. "There are many good, high-paying jobs that they can learn well while in high school in diversified education, technical or vocational training, and then, they could begin working day one when they graduate. So, I would like to see these programs expanded a lot."
Additionally, he would like to see enhanced training in internet technology fields.
"I think we need to remain above the curve," he said. "Around the world — particularly in India, China, Japan — they have more computer instruction time in the classroom than we do. So I believe we need to have enhanced IT spending," Seltzer said.
Seltzer is also passionate about teaching students smart spending habits.
"I believe there ought to be, beginning in the early grades, a personal financial planning curriculum for young students," he said. "I believe by the time students get to college, they've already taken on the bad habits of their parents with respect to maybe car payments or not understanding amortization or compound interests.
"Maybe they're already got onto the hook with credit cards. Maybe they've taken out student loans," he continued. "They don't understand things about health insurance or car insurance. And, so, I think we start in the early grades with financial literacy."
Peters served in the U.S. Marines Corps for 21 years as an officer and pilot and retired as lieutenant colonel having been in the Vietnam War.
He worked as a head flight instructor, took part in counter intelligence duties and at one time was a naval attaché, a military ambassador to foreign nations.
"I would bring a lot of experience to the school board, a lot of leadership skills," Peters said. "I dealt with a lot of investigations, and as an attaché, I dealt with both hostile and friendly foreign people."
After the military, he enjoyed a second career with Escambia County Public Schools teaching at Pine Forest, Northview and Washington high schools. He taught science for two years before becoming a junior ROTC instructor and a weightlifting and swimming coach.
He worked with junior ROTC cadets for 20 years before retiring from the school district in 2014.
"You know, you've been in the system too long when your cadets that you had in high school, now have kids of their own in high school," Peters said, laughing a little.
"But really, I've had parents come up to me and say, 'Come on, we need somebody that'll listen to us, that will be our voice,'" he said, about his reasons for running for a seat on the board.
If elected, Peters said he would work hard to keep critical race theory from being taught in public classrooms. His campaign platform posted on the Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections' website states: "There is no reason to incorporate social/political agendas in the curriculum."
While referring to the incorporation of critical race and other similar theories into school lesson plans, Peters told the News Journal, "The last stop and block we have will be the local school boards with the consent and help of the parents."
His second highest priority if elected would be the continual improvement of school safety.
"School security, that's paramount," Peters said. "With all these wackos running around, school security is one we have to really enhance and keep up the (School Resource Officer) programs. And I'm all for the Guardian program. I keep telling people we have to start thinking first preventer, not just first responder."
Peters' third priority as a school board member would be raise teacher pay and ensure teachers are able to sign multi-year contracts with the district to increase their job security.
"And the last one (of my top priorities) would be listening to parents and teachers," Peters said. "Somebody's got to support the teachers."
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8680.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Santa Rosa School Board District 5: Scott Peden, Gregory Seltzer, Pete Peters