Mike Mullins has a unique way of protesting the hardship that has befallen the schools of Philadelphia where his children are enrolled. According to USA Today, Mullins is now on the 8th day of a hunger strike to protest measures that did away with extracurricular activities like music and art classes as well as the firing of support staff like student counselors, all to keep schools open next year.
Mullins wants to bring attention to the problems created by the district's $304 million budget deficit because he feels that parents, residents, administrators and lawmakers don't understand what it would mean for students to be educated in a bare-bones academic environment.
"What led us here was the catastrophic budget they put out which devastates the schools and our city, but specifically eliminates — just completely abandons — all of the safety monitors in lunchrooms and in recess," Mullins said Monday.
The "Fast for Safe Schools" is one of several efforts designed to draw attention to the schools' dire situation. The district has sent layoff notices to 20 percent of its staff, meaning more than 3,800 employees will be jobless next week.
For the past month, state lawmakers have been working with Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr. and the state's governor Tom Corbett on a deal to provide an additional $100 million in funding for the city's schools. However, no recent progress on the talks has been reported.
Meanwhile, the district is continuing to operate on the assumption that when the school doors reopen in the fall, they will be subject to the "catastrophic budget" which doesn't rely on any additional funding from any level of government, or any concessions by the Philadelphia's teachers union.
On Monday, dozens of pink-slipped music teachers joined some of their students for a goodbye concert. The strains of Rimsky-Korsakov, Saint-Saens and medleys of pop songs filled the soaring atrium of district headquarters downtown.
Come fall, students will hear only the sounds of silence, said Virginia Lam, the system's music administrator.
"It's a farewell concert because all 66 instrumental music teachers — who go to 190 schools, service over 10,000 students, present over a thousand concerts each year — their positions have been eliminated," Lam said.
Although the city has promised an additional $74 million in funding raised via a new tobacco tax and by collecting overdue city taxes, district officials are not optimistic. The new tax will require approval from the majority-Republican state legislature while the mechanism for overdue tax collection in the city is notoriously weak and inefficient.
So while the powers-that-be battle it out over the fate of the city's schools, the hunger strikers continue to sit outside Corbett's city office, sipping water.