Focus on HSTA, Lingle tells rally
• Photo gallery: Furlough Protests
by Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff writer
More than 100 people showed up at the state Capitol last night to protest public school furloughs and several vowed to continue their sit-in at the governor's office this morning.
Several parents and children who believe that Gov. Linda Lingle needs to end the furlough of Hawai'i's students will return to Lingle's office today, said Marguerite Higa, a member of the group Save Our Schools.
"Everyone is so concerned about saving face," said Clare Hanusz, the mother of two children, who attended last night's rally. "The children continue to be the victims. We're stuck and no one is moving."
The group began a sit-in at the governor's office on Wednesday, hoping that Lingle would talk with them and possibly come to an agreement that would end the furloughs of Hawai'i's 170,000 public-school children, Hanusz said.
But after three days, seven citations for trespassing and a weekend protesting outside Lingle's official residence, no resolution is in sight.
"We're not sure what our next step is," Hanusz said. "But we're not giving up. People are committed to staying through the night again."
Just 45 minutes before last night's rally began, Lingle issued a three-page letter to the group urging them to focus their efforts on the teachers union, the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
"I encourage you to redirect your energy and effort to convincing leaders of the HSTA that successful resolution of the furloughs will not be possible unless they change their publicly stated position that they will no longer negotiate to find a solution to return Hawaii's children to the classroom," Lingle wrote.
"We cannot allow our public education system to be held hostage to a system that is fragmented and unaccountable for its lack of performance and progress," Lingle said. "Your misguided and misdirected demands that seek my engagement in something that I am already doing will not alter the circumstances before us."
The governor vowed to continue "to advocate and fight for a brighter future for all citizens of Hawai'i, including the children of our state."
Lingle said she has met with officials from the state Department of Education, the Board of Education and the HSTA to try to resolve the furloughs, which began Oct. 23.
The HSTA, Board of Education and the governor agreed to a total of 34 furlough days over the next two years. Students have not had school on 13 of the 17 furlough days scheduled for this school year.
Margaret Graham, a parent of two public schoolchildren, said last night that she was happy to see so many people coming out to support the opposition to furlough Fridays.
"No one thinks this is the right thing to do, to keep our kids out of school," Graham said. "Educating kids should be the last thing to go, not the first. I am here standing up for kids and to get them back in school."
"The governor should govern," said Inger Kwaku, a mother of four children, two of whom attend public school. "If she can't govern, she should step down instead of finger pointing."
Clif Tanabe, a Mānoa resident, doesn't have children in public school but wanted to show his support for the protesters.
"The children are the future of our state and deserve as good an education as the rest of the kids in our country," Tanabe said. "This group speaks for the silent majority of public school parents."