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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 13, 2010

End furloughs, kids write


By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

From left in front, Elena Marshall, holding sister Katherine, Kailee Corrie, Kalae and Keenan Millikan arrived at the govenor's office with parents of Save Our Schools Hawaii to appeal for an end to school furloughs.

Photos by DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Marguerite Higa, left, delivers student testimony letters to Jordann Ares, policy analyst for Gov. Linda Lingle. The students' letters said they wanted to be in school on Fridays instead of on furlough.

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Several public school children, accompanied by their parents, yesterday delivered letters to Gov. Linda Lingle's office, asking her to restore the instructional days that have been cut due to the state's budget crisis.

"All the children of Hawai'i need more education so they can grow up to be better people," said 7-year-old Elena Marshall, standing in the lobby of Lingle's office. The Wilson Elementary student then began to read from the letter she hand-wrote and hoped to give to the governor.

"Some people may like furloughs Fridays because we get a day off, but I don't like them," she read.

Yesterday was the 13th scheduled furlough day for the current school year, with four remaining. There are 17 scheduled for next year under the most recent two-year contract between the state and the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Since the furlough days began in late October, there has been just one full five-day week of instruction.

The dozen or so children and parents from the grassroots group Save Our Schools Hawai'i compiled a binder of letters and artwork from their 1,000 Student Voices project for the governor. They had hoped to deliver the material to her personally, but were met in the lobby by an aide.

"The parents and the children want to know what is the governor doing and why isn't she working on this every day until it is solved," said Marguerite Higa, a member of Save our Schools, speaking to Lingle's aide. Higa said parents across the state are frustrated that there is no solution in sight that would put teachers back in the classroom.

A solution would require agreement from the governor, state Board of Education and Department of Education, as well as the HSTA.

Lingle's staff met last week with negotiators from the BOE to discuss possible proposals to present to the teachers union, but no talks with the HSTA took place this week and none have been scheduled.

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol yesterday, Lingle said her advisers have met with state lawmakers on a new furlough proposal but she did not disclose any details. She said a resolution on furloughs, however, should be tied to a restructuring of the state DOE, such as giving the governor the authority to select the state schools superintendent and eliminating the elected state BOE.

"Without that, just dealing with the immediate furlough doesn't get to the issue of a lack of accountability in the system, and that's what we need to address over the long term," the governor said.

"Who is going to be held responsible for the lack of positive results at the Department of Education? Because more money alone will not produce better results. We already know that, because we spent more every year and the results have not gotten better."

In November, the teachers union rejected a Lingle plan to reduce the number of furlough days.

The HSTA and education officials in December agreed to cut seven furlough days using $35 million from the state's "rainy-day" fund, leaving the 17 furlough days in the 2010-11 school year. However, Lingle rejected the plan and, largely repeating the offer made in November, proposed to cancel 24 furlough days this school year and next using $50 million from the fund.

Inger Kwaku, whose children attend Kahala Elementary, said the group had also contacted members of the state Board of Education and the HSTA to come to the governor's office to accept packets of letters and artwork from school children.

"I worry about the message that we are sending to Hawai'i's children that education doesn't matter," Kwaku said.

Kwaku's daughter Geneva, a third-grader at Kahala Elementary, read a letter of her own.

"Please hurry and find the money to pay our hard-working and loving teachers," she said.

Advertiser Staff writer Derrick DePledge contributed to this report..