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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 10, 2010

Grown-ups at sit-in ticketed

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writers

State sheriffs last night issued trespassing citations to seven people on day three of a sit-in at the governor's office over public school furloughs. One of the protestors said they would not vacate the office and were prepared to be arrested if necessary.

The adults are part of a group of parents who are demanding to meet with Gov. Linda Lingle to find a way to end the public school furlough days. The group, Save Our Schools, began the sit-in Wednesday night and said it would continue sit-ins at the reception area of Lingle's office until she agrees to meet with the group.

Clare Hanusz, a parent of two children at Noelani Elementary, said she was surprised that the sheriffs cited them because they were told earlier yesterday that they could stay. But at about 5:15, she said, sheriffs told them that "orders had come down" that the parents would be cited if they did not leave.

A half-dozen adults and several children left the office, the governor's office said in a news release. Seven chose to stay and were cited for simple trespass, she said. Those cited were not removed from the office. At 7:30 last night, six adults and three children, including Hanusz's children, remained in the office.

The sheriffs did not cite the children.

The governor's office did not return phone calls last night for further comment.

Hanusz, an attorney, said the parents plan to leave the office this morning and take the protest to the governor's residence across the street from the state Capitol. The group will hold a vigil through the weekend and plans to return to Lingle's office on Monday.

Yesterday was the first time officials have cited the protesters since the sit-ins began. Earlier, the group was effectively denied access to bathrooms, having been told that anyone who left the office would not be allowed to return.

The group has been holding the overnight sit-ins to get Lingle to negotiate directly with the teachers union and the state Board of Education.

To that, the governor's news release yesterday said, "Claims by the group that first occupied the office on Wednesday that Gov. Lingle has not been personally involved in the negotiations to end teacher furloughs are patently false.

"The governor has had face-to-face meetings on multiple occasions with the Department of Education, including the previous superintendent and the current superintendent; the Board of Education, including different factions within the board; the Hawai'i State Teachers Union, including the past president and the current president; and various legislators."

The state on Oct. 23 began a series of teacher furloughs that would cut a total of 34 classroom days this school year and next. So far there have been 13 furlough days out of 17 scheduled for the 2009-10 school year.

Hanusz said she was warned by the sheriffs that if the parents left the office and returned, they could be arrested for criminal trespassing, which carries possible jail time. Hanusz said they will deal with that issue on Monday.

"We're here not because we don't have anything better to do. We've all got plenty of stuff to do," she said. "But we're here because this issue is so important and we feel like it's come down to this. We've tried everything else and this is the last resort."

Earlier yesterday, about two dozen public school teachers walked the halls of the state Capitol lobbying lawmakers to provide $92 million, the amount the HSTA and the state Board of Education say is needed to end furlough Fridays.

With a Monday legislative deadline to address furloughs in the state budget bill, the teachers asked state representatives and senators to sign cards pledging their support to set aside funding to eliminate teacher furlough days.

"We are trying to get the legislators to commit to supporting the end of furloughs. The teachers, we've made all the compromises we feel we can make. Now the ball is in the Legislature's court to make sure the appropriation is there," said Troi Orias, a student services coordinator at Pauoa Elementary School.

Orias said he had received signed pledges from Rep. Lyla Berg, Sen. Norman Sakamoto, Speaker of the House Calvin Say and many others.

Last week 84 percent of HSTA members endorsed the $92 million plan to eliminate the remaining 21 furlough days this year and next, a plan reached after weeks of negotiation with the state Board of Education.

Lingle has said the HSTA-BOE plan is about $30 million too expensive because it brings back all employees in the public school system. She is proposing bringing back only "essential" employees: mostly teachers and school-level support staff.

At 5:30 p.m. tomorrow, Save Our Schools will hold a "Stop the Furloughs" rally and sit-in at the state Capitol rotunda.