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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 30, 2010

Students appeal to leaders

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Public school students offered sweets to lawmakers and rallied in front of the state Capitol on the ninth furlough Friday.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Clad in yellow shirts that say they're future voters, a group of school-age students delivered homemade cookies to the governor and lawmakers yesterday in hopes of raising awareness of the effects of furlough Fridays on students.

"We're trying to send a message to the Board of Education and we're striving to keep this issue not political," said parent Liam Skilling, a member of Save Our Schools Hawai'i, a grassroots organization formed to restore classroom days.

"We see the governor as the leader of the state and we want the leaders to accept responsibility for where we are right now," Skilling said.

Yesterday was the ninth of 34 furlough Fridays scheduled for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Three parent groups came together yesterday at the state Capitol to draw attention to the continued lost classroom time by delivering brown paper bags of home-baked cookies to lawmakers and the governor.

Businessman Wally Amos donated 300 cookies to the cause and read to the children in attendance. Others held an old-fashioned bake sale, with proceeds going to help teachers who want to return to the classroom.

At the governor's office, Linda Smith, Gov. Linda Lingle's senior policy adviser, accepted the cookies from children and said she would take them to the governor.

Smith said the governor last week reiterated her position in a closed-door meeting with the Board of Education: eliminate 24 of the remaining furlough days by using $50 million in rainy-day emergency money to open schools for 12 days, and gain 12 more classroom days by converting teacher planning days. Her proposal still leaves a $20 million shortfall.

Inside the governor's office, Carson Butler and Katy Graham, sixth-graders at Kainalu Elementary School in Kailua, said they were upset that they have been losing instructional days.

"We want to go to school," Butler said. "We're not learning as much and we're losing our education."

Said Graham: "Me and the other students have dreams of a future and they're going out the window. We don't think it's right."

Meanwhile, children's artwork on display at the Capitol must be removed because someone complained, said Marguerite Higa, a member of Save Our Schools Hawai'i.

The artwork was part of the Save Our Schools Hawai'i "1,000 Student Voices About Education" campaign on furlough Fridays.

The group members had obtained a permit from the state Department of Accounting and General Services to post the art on the walls of the Capitol's chamber level through Feb. 26. On Thursday they were told to remove the artwork.

"There was a complaint from the public and we were told that nothing in the artwork can be displayed that is political," Higa said. "Where else can you be political if not the Capitol?"

Russ Saito, state comptroller, said his department did approve the application, but was under the impression that the application was for the display of student artwork.

"What's up is propaganda," Saito said. "It's a campaign against furloughs; that's not art. It's not a question of free speech. We grant that unequivocably ."

When it comes to posting things on government buildings, the works of art must be neutral, Saito said. The upshot is that the government will be taking a closer look at applications to display artwork.

Saito said he also ordered that a display of photographs of gay and lesbian families be taken down as well.

"The application didn't say artwork; it said a photographic display," he said. "We cannot appear like we're taking sides in a public building. "