Hunger Strike for Philadelphia Public Schools

September 12th, 2013

At the end of June, a threat arose in the Philadelphia school district of budget cuts that would eliminate many workers. I would like again to congratulate the parents, and staff, with UNITE HERE local 274, for their amazing 14 day, Hunger Strike against these cuts. They turned the massive budget cuts in Philly into a daily media story and dramatically elevated the public awareness of the crisis. According to many reports, they changed the nature of the negotiations, getting tens of millions more from the Governor, to save the schools. I and my coworker Kai at the Center for the Working Poor, were honored to consult, and help set up the fast. The two articles below discuss the middle and end of the strike. You may click on the titles to see the original articles.

More Parents Join Hunger Strike for Philly Schools
June 21, 2013
More parents have joined a hunger strike to protest layoffs in the Philadelphia school district.

The strike is entering its fifth day. Participants are drinking only water until the city and state supply funding to rehire 1,200 lunchtime aides.

The aides are among more than 3,800 school employees who will lose their jobs June 30 because of the district’s $304 million deficit.

State and city officials are negotiating for more education funds, but no promises have been made.

Two parents and two district workers began fasting on Monday. Two additional parents joined the effort on Friday. They say aides play a crucial role in school safety by preventing fights and bullying.

The strikers are stationed in front of Gov. Tom Corbett’s field office in downtown Philadelphia.

The district, the eighth largest in the United States, sent thousands of layoff notices on June 7. The district is eliminating all assistant principals, secretaries and guidance counselors. Nearly 700 teachers and more than 1,200 aides also got pink slips. The laid off employees won’t be back in September unless politicians can figure out how to fill the multi-million budget gap.

On Tuesday, the city council announced that they are promising the Philadelphia School District $74 million to save district jobs by implementing a $2 cigarette tax and delinquent taxes and fees owed to the city.

Philly hunger strikers break fast in light of eleventh-hour budget deal
July 1, 2013
After Sunday’s last-minute budget deal was signed in Harrisburg, Philadelphia parents and community members on a 15-day hunger strike announced they would start eating again this afternoon.

Supporters marched from Governor Corbett’s Philadelphia office to the School District of Philadelphia administrative building, pushing fasters in wheelchairs.

Fasters sipped on apple juice after prayer and songs. For district employee Juanita Jones, it’s the first thing she’s had other than water in two weeks. “Like heaven,” she laughed. “Wonderful.”

Yesterday’s budget deal garnered some $127 million in funds for schools. Jones and other fasters said now all eyes are on the school district to see how the money will be used.

The strike was started to put pressure on the state to avoid the roughly 3,800 district layoffs that were expected to go into effect today. The details of yesterday’s budget deal are still unclear, particularly how it will affect the planned layoffs.

The school district has not confirmed whether or not the layoffs will still go into effect. Mayor Nutter told reporters this afternoon that even he still wasn’t sure what the deal meant for Philadelphia schools.

The school district issued a statement saying it appreciates the money coming from Harrisburg, and will work to provide a high-quality education with the funding available. But the statement did not address whether layoffs can be averted.

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