Sales at the new student-run used car dealership at Marshall High School are so brisk, said Tim Daly, project supervisor, "I can't keep enough of them out on the floor. I'm selling more cars than JKJ."
Teachers and some students in the program, however, tell a different story. They say that while a student dealership might be a great idea, the program as it has been carried out at the Fairfax County high school is unsatisfactory for students and teachers alike.
"The program has potential, but the first year has been rough. They're trying to operate it on a shoestring budget, which has made it miserable for us," said Steve Meadows, who has taught the auto body repair class at Marshall for six years.
Fairfax County schools launched the used car dealership last fall under the auspices of the Fairfax County Vocational Educational Foundation, a group of local business people who sponsor vocational programs for the school system. Daly, as projects supervisor for the foundation, runs the dealership. He said he believes that the program is "an excellent way for students to get a well-rounded education in the auto retail business" and to see "the whole cycle of the auto retail business, from buying used cars, to fixing them up, to selling them," rather than the more narrow auto mechanics and auto body classes that the high school had offered in previous years.
But Meadows and auto mechanics teachers Jim Weaver and Dick Bradfield say the lack of cars for students to work on and a lack of student involvement in the buying and selling of the cars are problems in the program. Meadows said he and the other teachers have gone to Daly four times with their concerns, but that "he just said, 'I'll see what I can do' . . . . Nothing ever happened."
Foundation president Tony Caggiano and Jay Jacobs, the school system's assistant superintendent for career and resource development, said they were unaware of problems with the dealership. "I think it's going extremely well," said Jacobs.
The three teachers said their 35 auto body and 28 auto mechanics students have had too few cars to work on since the program began in September because Daly wants to use only cars donated free of charge. Last year, they say, the car repair program had a lengthy waiting list of cars.
"I'll give you an example of the difference between this year and last year," said Meadows. "By this time last year, my kids had painted 75 cars. This year, we've painted six. I've got kids who are going to go out to be [car] painters, and the frustrating thing is I can't give them enough work."
"We don't have enough work because we don't have enough cars," said Steve Reiche, a junior at Marshall in his second year in the auto body repair program. "Last year, we had a waiting list of close to 100 cars [to be repaired]. This year, we have maybe four or five cars at the most to work on."
Danny Hoosier, a junior at Marshall in his third year of the program, said, "A lot of the time you come here and you just don't have anything to do."
Meadows said that during the past two weeks, "We have started taking in work [repairing cars] from the outside on a limited basis."
In response to these complaints, Daly said, "There are more cars in that shop than we can turn out," noting that there are numerous cars sitting in a back lot at the school. "If they the teachers feel they need to work on more cars, all they need to do is bring them in."
Teachers Meadows and Weaver, however, said the cars are "junk." Said Meadows, "They're not cars that will be sold. They just are not in good enough condition for us to even fix them. They are just not the kind of car that anyone is going to buy, no matter what we do." Weaver said most of the cars have been driven at least 90,000 miles and are extremely rusty. It would cost the program more than the cars would bring in for the parts alone, he said.
Some students and the teachers also complain that students are not involved in all aspects of the dealership. "I don't know why they call it 'student sales' -- we don't ever get to do any selling," said Reiche.
"We fix the cars up and get them ready [to be sold], but we don't sell them," said second-year auto body student Billy Shoup. "The only time we talk to customers is if they come into the shop while we're working -- and that's not very often."
Daly said he did not know why students said they do not sell cars. "Students are involved in all aspects of the dealership," he said. According to Daly, students sold 11 cars at the showroom's grand opening Nov. 28 and have sold five cars since then, bringing the total number of cars sold as of March 1 to 16.
The three teachers and some students, however, said they sold only five cars on opening day and that as of March 1 the dealership had sold only six cars altogether -- not 16.
Daly said the difference is "a communications mixup." The teachers, however, said that if the 10 cars in dispute were in fact sold, it was not by students.
Jacobs said a school system review of the number of cars sold under the program, requested by Jacobs after inquiries from The Washington Post, "resolved the discrepancy to [the school system's] satisfaction."
Jacobs said the review showed that of the 16 cars sold, eight have left the shop and buyers have made deposits on eight still in the shop.
Said Meadows, "We are not aware of any deposits made by potential buyers. No one [potential buyer] has expressed that to us. If they're selling cars, they're not telling us."