Parent protester says 2 arrested during school furlough sit-in at Hawaii governor’s office

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2 arrested during protest at Hawaii gov’s office

HONOLULU — Parents angry about Hawaii’s shortest-in-the-nation school year aren’t giving up on a weeklong sit-in at Gov. Linda Lingle’s office despite two arrests and more than a dozen trespassing tickets.

The protesters — camped in the lobby of Lingle’s office for five of the past seven days — are upset by budget-cutting education furloughs approved last year. As a result, Hawaii students go to school four days a week in most weeks, and the state owns the unwelcome distinction of having the shortest instructional calendar in the nation with just 163 days.

The frustrated parents are hoping to prod the Republican governor into making a more public push to end furloughs.

“We know that she holds the power of the purse. She’s the one who can release emergency funds to get rid of the furloughs for this school year,” said Jill Tao, 45, who has two sons in public school. “We’re parents. We’re tired of having our children furloughed. We want it done now.”

Thirteen days have been lost in the current school year, with four more furlough days slated in the coming weeks.

Another 17 days are scheduled for the school year that begins in the fall.

So far, 14 people have been issued citations for trespassing, and Lingle on Tuesday warned the protesters they risked arrest if they continued to try to remain in the office lobby overnight.

Later, two University of Hawaii students who remained after closing hours were arrested while eight others were handed trespassing citations, according to protester Marguerite Higa.

A telephone message The Associated Press left for Lingle spokesman Russell Pang about the arrests late Tuesday wasn’t immediately returned.

The only state with a statewide school district, Hawaii has been known for its less-than-stellar performance on education. The furloughs have only made the situation worse, forcing parents to take days off from work or scramble to find other activities to keep their children educated or entertained.

The furloughs were the result of a labor pact signed last year by state education officials and the Hawaii State Teachers Association after Lingle cut allocations for public education to help close a severe budget shortfall. Lingle signed off on the labor contract.

But the resulting public outcry forced more negotiations to eliminate the furlough days, which have dragged on for months. The stalemate has left the parents who are conducting the sit-in fuming and frustrated — mostly at the governor.

Lingle, the state’s first Republican governor in 40 years, has tried to deflect the parents’ anger toward the teachers union, which she feels is more responsible for the continuing furloughs.

The governor has offered a $62 million deal that would eliminate the remaining 21 furlough days by bringing back teachers, nurses, security guards and other essential workers.

But the union and the state Board of Education have already inked another pact costing $92 million that would bring back all 23,000 education employees. The governor insists the still-strapped state can’t afford it and refuses to release that much money.

Meanwhile, the parents’ sit-in has received national attention, a likely unwanted development for a lame-duck governor who recently hinted she may seek a U.S. Senate seat in two years. But she’s not budging.

The sit-in “hasn’t been pleasant for anyone, not for the people involved in the protest, not for me and not for the public,” Lingle said Tuesday at a news conference. “But I will not under these circumstances or any other circumstances sacrifice the state’s long-term financial solvency for personal popularity.”

The governor invited the parents from her office lobby, where they have been camping, to watch her news conference Tuesday but refused to take questions from them.

In reply to a reporter’s query, Lingle said she has not been interested in meeting with the protesters, who mostly are parents and members of an ad hoc group called Save Our Schools.

“I’m kinda human … and when people send me what I take as being politically threatening letters and saying, ‘If you don’t meet with us, then we’re going to do X, Y and Z,’ it’s just not the kind of people you’re excited to meet with,” the governor said.

will not be displayed