Cashing in on the clunkers Class: A creative industrial arts teacher has turned old cars into labs for students, whose projects pay a significant part of their school's expenses.

December 01, 1997|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Where most folks see a parking lot full of clunkers, John Shadwick sees piles of cash.

In eight years, Shadwick has taken the Takoma Academy's industrial arts program from near extinction to a $300,000-a-year business.

Every other Monday, about 30 used car dealers gather behind the private high school in Takoma Park to bid on 130 cars that have been donated to the program and in many cases repaired by student mechanics.

"We don't do busy work," says Shadwick, an easygoing man who travels from West Virginia each day to teach his young grease monkeys. "We don't take a car apart and put it together, and take it apart and put it together. We fix them so that they run."

After evaluating donated vehicles, Shadwick and his teaching partner, Jim Morgan, turn the best of them over to their three classes for repairs.

"I tell the kids they need to make the cars look as good as possible. They can't stall. They can't smoke," says Shadwick.

The sad carcasses that can't be revived are used for parts or by students learning to use a tool or practicing a specific repair.

The 370-student academy, run by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, does not sell cars to the public because that would require it to be licensed, bonded and insured by the state. Instead, it sends fliers to 75 dealers, outlining the inventory on hand.

Dealers bid on the vehicles -- everything from econo-boxes to gas guzzlers -- and haul them away. The program started with just one or two cars a month and now involves thousands of cars a year. It may soon go to weekly auctions just to clear the lot for new donations.

"In the beginning, like public schools, we were just looking for ways to balance the budget," says Principal L. G. Kromann. "The program has jumped so quickly that it caught us flatfooted."

The program is one of the primary sources of revenue for the school -- providing 15 percent of its annual operating budget, Kromann said. It also receives funds from tuition fees and donations from the Seventh Day Adventist Conference,

Other nonprofit groups -- from the Salvation Army to Vietnam Veterans of America -- also use vehicle donations to raise funds, making their appeals through newspaper advertisements and radio commercials. Some other Maryland school programs also have repaired cars and sold them, but none to the extent of Takoma Academy's program.

Daniel Borochoff, president of Bethesda-based American Institute of Philanthropy, says that while the practice of turning // donated cars into cash is nothing new, "there's been an uptick in solicitations."

"It's no fun trying to sell a used car," says Borochoff, whose nonprofit group publishes Charity Rating Guide and Watchdog Report. "This is the way to avoid a hassle and get a good tax deduction."

Donors of vehicles worth more than $500 must fill out Internal Revenue Service form 8283 (Noncash Charitable Contributions), says Sam Serio of the IRS.

If the vehicle's worth exceeds $5,000, a donor also must have an independent appraiser's report.

"In some cases, you may be better off selling the car yourself and donating the money," Borochoff says.

It's easy to see how Takoma Academy's donations are used. In the auto shop behind the school, students copy information given over the phone by donors and talk them through filling out the title transfer.

Within 48 hours, a tow truck brings the vehicle in.

"If it's a nice car, we'll go to North Carolina for it. For a 1990 BMW, we'd go to California," says Kromann, with a smile.

Tuneups and brake jobs are done by the students, who must successfully complete two of each to pass the elective course.

"They're not mechanics when they finish, but when they go into a gas station, at least they know what the mechanic is saying," says Morgan, who ran two Texaco stations until his retirement seven years ago.

After they get the basics down, students are split into teams of three and select a car to work on. When it is sold, the students and school divide the profits.

The students know their classes help reduce their monthly tuition bills of $450 to $600 and pay for new equipment for the school.

"Tuition is expensive, but it's a good education," says Vanessa Thomas, 15, of Hyattsville. "I'm taking a course I truly like, and we're earning money for the school."

And for Chandea Rowley, 16, of Baltimore, the course will make hTC her more self-sufficient.

"A lot of women get gypped when they take their car into the repair shop," said Rowley, as she struggled last week with a fender bolt. "I'm not going to be one of them."

To donate a vehicle to Takoma Academy, call 301-439-8223.

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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