Fast for Philly school funding enters Day Five as state budget negotiations continue

 Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez (third from right) brought bottled water to the Fast for Safe Schools group on Friday. (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez (third from right) brought bottled water to the Fast for Safe Schools group on Friday. (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

Friday marked the fifth day of a hunger strike by Philadelphia parents and school staff in protest of a school funding plan that will leave more than a thousand safety workers without jobs.

The four participants in the fast, all local members of Unite Here, have vowed not to eat or drink anything except water until an amended state budget allows the Philadelphia School District to rescind layoffs.

Earlene Bly, one of the original fasters and a member of Unite Here’s Local 274, says she’s energized by the mission to protect students like her daughter — and by the recipe book she’s been reading.

“I love to eat, so for me to give that up, that’s my way of letting people know that this is a serious issue,” said Bly, standing near the tent she and other organizers have pitched outside Gov. Tom Corbett’s Philadelphia headquarters.

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“Who can put a price on their child’s life? I can’t,” she added. “My child’s life is irreplaceable.”

Council closes; talks move to Harrisburg

Before leaving for summer recess Thursday, Philadelphia City Council passed a $3.8 billion budget that does little to fill the School District of Philadelphia’s $304 million shortfall.

Council declined to vote on a bill to increase the business Use and Occupancy tax, one proposal intended to redirect money to cash-strapped schools.

Council did pass a $2-a-pack cigarette tax, pending state approval. Council also says it can squeeze $28 million worth of delinquent taxes from city residents to shore up schools.

Negotiations for a funding solution now rest with state officials.

Harrisburg has until the end of June to decide whether to rescind pink slips issued to 3,859 teachers and other school employees, but representatives in the state House have signaled that support for measures like the cigarette tax is far from certain.

Negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers are expected to continue in August, when the union’s contract expires.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is currently asking unions to cede a combined $133 million. He also asked for an additional $60 million from the city and $120 million from the state.

High-profile visitors and high hopes

City Council members Blondell Reynolds, Bill Green and Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, as well as Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hanger, are among those who have stopped by to speak to the strikers.

Parents Dawn Hawkins and Kia Hinton of working family advocacy group Action United will join the fasters for the weekend.

Hawkins, the parent of a student at the soon-to-be closed L P Hill Elementary School in North Philadelphia, brought a well-worn Bible with her for the fast.

“I’m asking the Lord for a blessing,” she said. “I’m just asking our Council and our state representatives: stop passing the buck.”

Parent and secretary-treasurer for Unite Here’s Local 274 Mike Mullins says it’s been tough to keep up his fast, but every visit shows growing support for the cause.

“It seems like maybe the conversation is starting to shift a little,” he said. “We just hope it moves fast.”

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