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Going it alone

When the chichi island town of Chilmark, Mass., decided to build a new elementary school, it didn't let the lure of state dollars get in the way.

Residents of the historic Martha's Vineyard hamlet had settled on designs for a 100-student school that would share the town library and use the community center as its gym.

It turned out that the plan ran afoul of the rules on state-funded school construction in several ways. For instance, using the library and community center was a no-go because they were not school property.

But Chilmark locals--about 1,000 year round and 5,000 in the summer--were not deterred. Soaring property values in the exclusive seaside enclave meant the town could afford to forgo state aid and thus escape the unpalatable requirements. So it went ahead with the $3.6 million school on its own terms, with no discernible tax hike.

Jeff Wulfson, the state's chief financial officer, thinks the new school, due to open next month, is the only Massachusetts public school in recent memory built without the state's help.

"There aren't many towns in the state that can afford it," he said, adding jokingly that he wished more could. "This is a unique situation."

Death of a sales plan

After realizing that they make lousy used-car salesmen, North Carolina's local school leaders recently got to relinquish that role to the state.

A state contractor last month held the first statewide auction of cars and trucks seized from repeat drunk drivers under a 2-year-old law that sends the profits of such sales to school districts. The law was revised last December after school administrators said they could not effectively handle the transactions themselves, as originally required.

Some 900 people bid on 147 of the more than 2,400 vehicles seized since January. But schools will collect only a small fraction of the $65,000 in receipts once the contractor is paid. State officials hope that with more than 100 cars a week coming on the block, that return will improve. "Our objective was to first get the school districts out of the used-car business," said Jeff Moore, the state education department's vehicle administrator. "Now we want to see that the vehicles are handled in a way that brings both the contractor money and revenue to the schools."

--Kerry A. White & Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 19, Issue 2, Page 14

Published in Print: September 15, 1999, as State Journal

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