FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - As the Broward County School Board votes to increase the pay for several employees within the school system, a longtime schoolteacher said financial hardship has forced her to move from her apartment and into an RV.

For Jessica Santos, the board’s decision to increase school staff’s pay is a lifesaver because financially, she was feeling desperate. That desperation forced her to move from her Pembroke Pines apartment.

“I started learning new skills, I started learning how to build websites, I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this on the side,'” Santos said. “I found myself many times, you know, not able to buy food.”

On Tuesday, the board agreed to give employees that work with students in the district more money, which includes new hires. Cafeteria workers and bus drivers will now receive signing bonuses.

“So the ayes have it on items one, two, three, four, five and six,” said Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff.

Paychecks for teachers to bus drivers will immediately be bigger after a voter referendum that passed back in 2022.

“This helps retain our staff and our employees to make sure that they know we respect them,” said Broward County Superintendent Peter Licata.

The breakdown for how the money will be distributed for staff members includes the following: bus drivers, clerical staff, facilities staff, food service staff and skilled workers will all receive an additional 5.5%.

The referendum also includes money for teachers too; an average of $10,600. New teachers will receive $500 and teachers who have been employed for 15 years or more will receive $12,000.

Santos has been a Broward County teacher for 16 years and has a Master’s degree. But next month, she and her children will be moving into a travel trailer.

“This is not the plan I had for my kids,” she said.

The trailer has room for her two sons, ages 12 and 15, and living there, she said, will give her a chance to breathe.

She taught biology for years at McArthur High and moved onto a middle school position. She makes less than $60,000 a year, and it’s not her only job. She’s been tutoring both online and in person, writing curriculum as well as teaching Saturday and summer school.

But her rent increased, and a bout with cancer, has left her with medical debt. The treatment was especially rough.

“I had a drain in my leg, that was my first day back,” Santos said. “I’m a single mom. I have responsibilities.”

Now, with the recent increase in teacher pay, Santos said it’s going to be a big help but it will be spread out in payments over the next two years.

Until then, the trailer is the answer. She even went to the Broward County Commission with an idea.

“RV lots, maybe designated for teachers and public servants who work and live in this county, but we can’t afford to live here any more,” she said. You may see me at Walmart with my camper, and that’s the reality.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, only one school board member, District Six’s Brenda Fam, voted to exclude these employees from receiving referendum money.

“These people, as much as they need money, are not entitled under this specific referendum,” Fam said.

But other board members said the money is for all those in the district.

“We were very, very clear for the public to be able to understand what they voted,” Nora Rupert said.

District leaders said it takes more than just teachers to run a district of this size.

“If it wasn’t for us, things wouldn’t happen folks,” said Jim Silvernale with the Federation of Public Employees. “It wouldn’t happen. Your kid wouldn’t get to school.”

The school board is also in negations with teachers about receiving a longer term pay raise.

A GoFundMe page was created by Santos to assist with living expenses. If you’d like to donate, click here.

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