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Take Note: Firefighters; Cutting the cable bill

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Some teachers have returned to work in Boston's public schools to find that the district did a little redecorating over the summer. The new style? Minimalism.

Workers removed rugs, pillows, and other personal touches from many classrooms because the city had deemed the items fire hazards. Inspectors swept through schools during the summer looking for fire-code violations and other problems.

Unfortunately, not all the city's teachers--who paid for most of the items out of their own pockets--knew about the cleanup.

Edward Doherty, the president of the Boston Teachers' Union, said teachers "were concerned and upset that this happened." But he added that the mayor's office and district have been very cooperative since the mix-up.

"Other than this, the school year has opened on a pretty positive note," Mr. Doherty said.

Meanwhile, the potentially flammable items are brightening the district's warehouse. School officials have said they will tell teachers which pieces they can keep in their classrooms--and which can't be brought up to code.

In trying to equip four schools with new computer cables, the Kansas City, Mo., school system found itself in a bind.

The district had $100,000 to upgrade the cables in its four computer magnet schools. It wasn't nearly enough to pay professional installers, who wanted $62,000 to do the job in just one of the buildings.

But instead of throwing up their hands, district officials turned to the students at one of the computer magnet schools, Central High.

The officials figured that the teenagers loved computers and that they badly wanted to be prepared for an increasingly computerized world. And, they figured, if computers were involved, most would happily work for, say, $6.50 an hour.

With a little coaxing from Central High administrators, the district hired 23 students, procured them two weeks of free training in cable installation, and put them to work running more than 70 miles of cables through the schools. With the help of 25 teachers, they finished the job by summer's end and well below the district's $100,000 budget.

Rick A. McAfee, who oversees technology for the district, notes that Central High tries to prepare students to go straight into the job market. "They all proved they could do this," he said.

--Joanna Richardson & Peter Schmidt

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