A group of parents and staff at Philadelphia public schools announced Monday they won’t eat or drink until the district gives 1,200 student safety workers their jobs back next fall.
Two parents and two staff members will forgo all food and fluids except for water for the next two weeks or more while the state Legislature and City Council decide whether to supplement school funding.
Nearly a third of all school workers who will lose their jobs under the proposed “doomsday” budget are safety staff charged with keeping the peace in hallways, lunchrooms, playgrounds and other school spaces.
At a news conference Monday, Roxborough High School parent Earlene Bly said she’s fasting to protect the workers that keep her daughter safe when she’s at school.
“It gives me peace of mind to know when I go out and start my day that my child is well cared for and in a safe environment,” said Bly.
Bly, whose daughter will be a sophomore next year, said she won’t have a bite until safety staff get their jobs back or “until my body tells me otherwise.”
Protests, rallies continue
Since cuts were announced in late May, students, parents, and staff members have staged a number of protests and rallies.
Hundreds of public education supporters initially gathered outside Philadelphia’s School District headquarters to await the School Reform Commission’s budget vote on May 30.
Other actions have followed.
Last week, parents of children in the city’s public schools announced they would march to Harrisburg to deliver thousands of student letters urging state lawmakers to fill the school budget shortfall.
And on Friday, the Philadelphia Student Union and faith-based group POWER gathered outside Gov. Tom Corbett’s Philadelphia headquarters in protest. Another group confronted Corbett as he left an unrelated event in the city that same day.
Time running out to change budget plan
The SRC budget passed at the end of May shaves the school workforce by almost 20 percent altogether.
The only guaranteed employees under the SRC vote would be principals and a minimum number of teachers, school police, custodial staff, and nurses.
As part of the cuts, many other support staff, art and music teachers, librarians, and counselors will also receive pink slips on July 1.
It is not too late to amend the budget, but time is running out. City Council begins its summer recess Friday, and the state budget is due June 30.
Mayor Michael Nutter last week traveled to Harrisburg in search of additional state funding, but legislative leaders would not promise more assistance.
Nutter had more luck at City Council, where members approved an increase in the cigarette tax. The measure now needs state legislation to go into effect.
Calling attention to basic needs
Mike Mullins, another hunger-striker and parent of a city school student, said city and state officials are ignoring basic education needs.
“I believe that everyone who’s in power to make the decision to fund the schools knows in their heart what it takes to make a school work,” he said at Monday’s news conference. “They know that kids need to feel safe, they know that there needs to be adequate support staff, and they’re making the people of this city live in fear.”
Two weeks might be a short time for lawmakers and public officials to make final changes, but it’s a long time to go without a meal. The four hunger-strikers plan to spend much of the next 14 days waiting on the steps outside Corbett’s Philadelphia office.