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Charles Adair, superintendent of the public schools in Harrison, Ark., doesn't mind being called frugal. In fact, it's something of an honor in these parts to be considered thrifty, particularly when you're in charge of a $9 million annual budget. To save on the electric bill, Adair turns off the lights when he leaves his office for lunch. For years, he had an agreement with a nearby district to buy its school buses after they'd been used for five years. "They were in good shape,'' he told me, "and about a third the price of new ones.'' In 1992, when a snowstorm caved in the roof of the district's administration building--a former school erected in 1915--Adair used the insurance money to rebuild rather than construct a brand-new facility, which would have cost the taxpayers $200,000. "We saved money,'' he said, "and we kept an old landmark.''
I am not sure who said it (possibly Northrop Frye), but it has been remarked that there are three characters from literature who are known all over the world: Hamlet, Alice, and Sherlock Holmes. I don't know how Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll felt about their creations, but it is known that Arthur Conan Doyle believed Holmes to be something of a nuisance and thought that his stories about Holmes did not represent his best work. The irony, of course, is that no one reads what Doyle regarded as his best work, but everybody reads about Holmes.
The women sitting around Dona LeBouef's butcher-block kitchen table look like a bevy of PTA moms dressed in coordinated shirts, pants, and denim jumpers, but in fact they are a rebel army. With classical music playing softly in the background, they sip their coffee, swap war stories, and sift through their arsenal of weapons: a large sheaf of photocopied newspaper articles, old report cards, and petitions.