Published Online: February 4, 1998

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Portable Politics

After trying for years to get Alabama lawmakers to replace thousands of decrepit portable classrooms statewide, Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman decided he would put the problem where they couldn't miss it: a parking lot across from the Statehouse.

Mr. Siegelman, who hopes to secure the Democratic nomination for governor against incumbent Republican Gov. Fob James Jr., rented a particularly dilapidated portable last month from the Montgomery County public schools for $500.

Then he leased parking spaces across from the Statehouse and had the classroom moved there from Houston Hill Junior High a few blocks away. He shelled out a total of about $2,000 for the display, said Paul Hamrick, Mr. Siegelman's chief of staff.

On Jan. 12, the day before the governor's State of the State Address, Mr. Siegelman affixed a sign to the portable and held a press conference. The sign read, "This is the State of the State."

Mr. Siegelman, who has a child attending school in a portable, wants legislators to commit to pay for the replacement of such classrooms, which would cost about $260 million, Mr. Hamrick said. Of the 3,200 portables statewide, perhaps one-third are 40 years old and all are dangerous in stormy weather, Mr. Hamrick said.

The exhibit, which is to remain throughout the legislature's three-month session, recalls Gov. Lawton Chiles' similar showcase for a portable in the courtyard of the Florida state Capitol last fall.

Web Wise

MCI Communications Corp. has brought out the big guns to help kick off a contest for high school students in three states that is meant to spotlight innovative ways students use the Internet.

The program was launched in Tennessee in December and in Michigan last month, in both cases with the help of top state officials, including the governors. It will begin in Washington state later this month.

MCI chose to pilot the contest in those states because their governors have been active in promoting education technology, said Laurie McCulley, the director of community relations for the Washington, D.C.-based company.

In each state, nine $5,000 awards will go to individuals and one $5,000 award will go to a team. The deadline is March 31, and winners will be chosen in May. The program aims to draw more attention to what high school students are doing with the Internet. For more information, see MCI's World Wide Web site at www.mci.com/cuttingedge.

--MILLICENT LAWTON & MARY ANN ZEHR

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