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Hết ngân sách phải cho học sinh nghỉ học

[ Saturday, 07 August, 2010 ]

Chuyện lạ có thật tại Hoa Kỳ: Chính phủ thiếu ngân sách phải cho học sinh nghỉ học

By MICHAEL COOPER
New York Times
Published: August 6, 2010

EDUCATION: HAWAII FURLOUGHS ITS CHILDREN

MILILANI, Hawaii — It was a Friday, and Maria Marte, an administrator for an online college that caters to members of the military, should have been at her office at a nearby Army hospital. Her daughters, Nira, 11, and Sonia, 9, should have been in school. Instead, Ms. Marte was sitting with a laptop in the dining room of her home in this neatly manicured suburb of Honolulu. “Did you already send your registration in?” she asked a client on the phone, trying to speak above the peals of laughter coming from the backyard, where the girls were having a water-balloon fight with some friends.

It was the 17th, and last, Furlough Friday of the year, the end of a cost-cutting experiment that closed schools across the state, outraging parents and throwing a wrench into that most delicate of balances for families with children: the weekly routine “I have to pay attention to the customers, and make sure that I’m understanding what they need,” said Ms. Marte, 37, whose husband, Odalis, an Army major, had been deployed in Afghanistan for nearly a year. Then she nodded at the window, toward the girls. “But at the same time, I have to make sure that they’re not killing each other.”

For those 17 Fridays, parents reluctantly worked from home or used up vacation and sick days. Others enlisted the help of grandparents. Many paid $25 to $50 per child each week for the new child care programs that had sprung up. Children, meanwhile, adjusted to a new reality of T.G.I.T. Getting them up for school on Mondays grew harder. Fridays were filled with trips to pools and beaches, hours of television and Wii, long stretches alone for older children, and, occasionally, successful attempts to get them to do their homework early.

But if three-day-weekends in Hawaii sound appealing in theory, many children said that they wound up missing school. “I’m really not a big fan of furloughs,” said Nira Marte, a fifth grader, explaining that she missed the time with her friends and her teacher. Four-day weeks have been used by a small number of rural school districts in the United States, especially since the oil shortage of the 1970s. During the current downturn, their ranks have swelled to more than 120 districts, and more are weighing the change.

But Hawaii is an extreme case. It shut schools not only in rural areas but also in high-rise neighborhoods in Honolulu. Suffering from steep declines in tourism and construction, and owing billions of dollars to a pension system that has only 68.8 percent of the money it needs to cover its promises to state workers, Hawaii instituted the furloughs even after getting $110 million in stimulus money for schools.
Unlike most districts with four-day weeks, Hawaii did not lengthen the hours of its remaining school days: its 163-day school year was the shortest in the nation.

The furloughs were originally supposed to last two years, but the outcry was so great — some parents were arrested staging sit-ins at the office of Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican — that a deal was hammered out to restore the days next year. On the last furlough day, Ms. Marte toggled back and forth between her girls — making them pizza, taking them to swim practice — and a stream of e-mails and calls. At one point, a soldier on the mainland was interrupted when his baby started bawling.

“Don’t worry, that’s fine,” Ms. Marte reassured him. “I’m in the same boat.”

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