TAMPA — She said it was hard to survive on her $37,014 salary as a member of the Hillsborough County School Board.
Jennifer Faliero wasn't kidding.
On Tuesday, a Circuit Court judge entered a judgment against her on a $30,780 credit card debt with the Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union.
Chase Bank is suing her for $6,548 more. All told, she owes more than $53,000 to creditors.
"It is fully my intention to repay my debts," Faliero said. "That's what I told the court."
Last week, she told the St. Petersburg Times she was campaigning to prevent state legislators from lowering school board members' salaries, which could cut her own paycheck by $8,000.
Speaking out on that topic might harm her candidacy for re-election to the School Board later this year, she said, but it was the only way she could continue serving and keep her family afloat.
"I am working my rear end off as a single mom," she added. "My family is on a budget, we're doing things entirely differently."
Faliero said the debts accumulated following a 2007 divorce, when she gained custody of her two daughters and lost a six-figure family income.
For much of the past two years, she said, she paid about $560 a month toward those credit cards, never missed a payment or made new charges.
Then one company changed the interest rate from 10.9 percent to 28 percent, and forced her to make larger payments.
"They force people into situations that didn't have to happen," she said. "There are a number of legislators who have declared bankruptcy, had their houses foreclosed. That hasn't happened to me yet."
Right now, Faliero and her daughters live in a rented townhouse in Valrico and make their way on a "cash only" basis. They own their car outright and have no other debts, she said.
She said she has no intention of withdrawing as a candidate for a third term on the board from District 4, representing eastern Hillsborough County.
So far, she faces challenges from former principal Richard Bartels and Stacy R. White, a parent and pharmacist. The primary is Aug. 24, and the general election is Nov. 4.
"I'm also going to be working part time or full time," Faliero said. "And I also have plans to go to law school.
"Because fortunately, with the way my debt is, the way my salary is, I qualify for all kinds of financial aid to go to school.
"Working two jobs and going back to school to have an income large enough to repay my debt, that's my goal."
Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400.