SCARBOROUGH – Scarborough High School students are protesting a proposal to charge them $100 a year to park in the school’s parking lot.
School officials say the fees would generate $50,000 a year, since about 500 of the 1,100 students regularly drive to school.
Senior class President Jack Sullivan, a three-sport athlete who often arrives at school early for meetings, said students are already burdened with expensive fees. The school charges students $100 per season to play sports and $50 for activities.
“(This) is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Sullivan said. “Now it’s time for the students to step up and give the School Board a piece of our mind. We cannot let this go through.”
The School Board is expected to vote on the proposal Aug. 16. Teachers would not be charged to park, and assistance would be offered to families who cannot afford the fee.
In a letter to parents, school officials said parking fees were first discussed by the School Board in the spring as a way to generate revenue to fund essential programs.
“As with any fee or tax increase, the School Board did not make the decision lightly,” the letter read. “The loss of classroom teachers, the foreign language program or athletic teams were options we wanted to avoid.”
Other Maine schools charge students to park. Juniors and seniors at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish must pay $10 a year to park on campus. In Cape Elizabeth and Kennebunk, students pay $50 a year to park at school.
Students at Deering High School in Portland pay $10 a year to park at school. There are no parking fees at South Portland High School.
Scarborough School Board Chairman Bob Mitchell said board members discussed raising athletic and activity fees, but decided instead to look at parking fees as a way to increase revenue.
While the board hasn’t voted on the plan, school officials are already counting on the money.
“We’ve increased the school revenue side of things by $50,000 in the anticipation we would add a parking fee of some sort,” Mitchell said.
Richard Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, said charging students to park at public schools in Maine is “relatively rare.” The organization does not track the number of schools that charge students to park or to participate in athletics or activities.
“From my experience, it’s more often a nominal fee and a sticker that goes along with it so all cars (parked in the lot) are registered,” he said.
A Facebook page opposing the Scarborough High parking fee has more than 300 followers. Students plan to collect signatures on a petition from 5 to 8 p.m. Aug. 14 and 15 in the school parking lot. The petition will be given to the School Board on Aug. 16.
The hope, Sullivan said, is that the School Board will reconsider the plan.
Merrick Madden, 17, plays three sports at Scarborough High and volunteers at Wentworth Intermediate School. He drives to school every day.
“I think it’s a little ridiculous because it’s a public place,” he said Tuesday while standing outside the high school with friends.
Austin Doody, a 16-year-old junior, said the added fee would be an expense that most high school students can’t afford. “It’s a huge part of anyone’s paycheck,” he said.
Angela Levesque, the mother of two high school students, said she was “shocked and upset” when she heard about the fee. She said her daughter has to drive if she wants to participate in after-school activities.
“Even if she wanted to stay 15 minutes after school to meet with a teacher, she has no ride home unless one of us leaves work to pick her up,” Levesque said. “To charge the kids is ridiculous.”
She said she heard of the plan from her 17-year-old daughter, Arielle.
“She asked me if she would have to pay the fee and I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ Then she got a little more concerned about it,” Levesque said. “She’s very unhappy about it. For her, $100 is a lot of money.”
Students should have been told about the proposal earlier and been involved in the process, said Arielle Levesque. Some students need time to save the money, especially if they work only during summer vacation.
“I’d rather see them lower the price or talk about it next year, instead of throwing it on us a month before school,” she said.
She also takes issue with paying to park in a lot that taxpayers financed, she said.
“It’s a town parking lot (that) anyone else can park in for free at any other time,” she said.
There is a school bus, and the public ShuttleBus system in town has stops a few blocks away. The school buses do not make late runs after school.
Principal Dean Auriemma said he has seen a mixed response to the proposal and is glad that the community is talking about the issue. He encourages people to brainstorm alternatives to the parking fee.
If the board approves the fee, the school will have to develop a plan to implement and enforce it, Auriemma said.
He said it seems to make sense to charge students quarterly, because not everyone drives to school all year. School administrators will involve students in that process, he said.
“It’s parking,” he said. “It’s not something you want to turn into this ridiculous discipline battle.”
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:
Correction: This story was revised at 12:32 p.m., Aug. 8, 2012, to state that students at Deering High School in Portland pay $10 a year to park at school. There are no parking fees at South Portland High School.