SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Generating $50,000 additional revenue in any school budget is a challenge.
Scarborough High School seniors Katie Elliott and Jack Sullivan are leading efforts to make it a bigger challenge as they seek to block a plan to charge students $100 to park at school this year.
“It’s not fair to put the fees on the high school students to fund the whole district,” Elliott said Monday as she and Sullivan prepared for the Aug. 16 meeting where the School Board will vote on the fee plan.
Elliott and Sullivan have organized a petition drive from 5-8 p.m. on Aug. 14 and 15 at the high school.
The 7 p.m. Aug. 16 meeting will give the public a chance to speak out on a plan to assess quarterly fees to students parking at school as a way to help increase revenues from student activities fees by $50,000 from last year’s $150,000.
School Board Chairman Bob Mitchell said the efforts to increase fee revenues to offset a $1 million reduction in state general purpose aid and mitigate property tax increases were part of the entire budget process approved by the school board and in a May referendum vote.
Sullivan, the president of the incoming senior class and Elliott, who represents the students on the School Board, said Scarborough High School Principal Dean Auriemma approached class presidents in early June and told them parking fees were under consideration.
Sullivan said reaction was not positive, although a smaller annual fee could gain some support.
Auriemma said he got the impression the larger fee could be supported as students and parents realized how it could help preserve programs and services.
“It was a bitter pill, but it didn’t raise any red flags to me,” he said.
Mitchell said parking fees alone will not raise the budgeted $50,000, while Sullivan and Elliott said adding parking fees to the $100 per sport and $50 per activity fees is asking too much of students and families.
“They aren’t the only ones short of cash right now,” Sullivan said.
Mitchell said the board would include a confidential waiver process as there is with athletic and activity fees, but warned that failing to reach the budget goal could lead to more cuts in a district where dozens of staff positions have been eliminated in the last two annual budgets.
After going through the budget process in her first year on the board, Elliott said she knows there are few easy decisions and plenty of need and taxpayers unhappy about mil rate increases.
“With a situation like this, you can’t send it back to the taxpayers,” she said.
Elliott and Sullivan both work, use vehicles owned by their parents and can’t rely on late buses after school to get them home from athletics and activities because late service is not offered.
Should students decide against paying the fees, Mitchell said school bus schedules would bear the brunt.
“If everybody shifted instantaneously, we would have to make an adjustment,” he said, by possibly adding more runs to the three currently scheduled for middle and high school students.
Auriemma said he supports charging quarterly fees to allow students to opt in and out of the parking plan. While the only local district currently charging fees is in neighboring Cape Elizabeth, Auriemma said schools in his native Illinois do assess parking fees, as well as fees for books, lockers and labs.
The difference is those parking fees are assessed to help alleviate a lack of space at schools three times the size of the Scarborough High School.
“I know $100 is a small piece in the whole equation, but it is a big number to some people. That’s why I think the board is not going into this lightly.”
Auriemma said perhaps half of the school’s 1,100 students use the lot, while Mitchell said parking fees might generate more than $30,000 annually.
Auriemma said he is glad to see a high level of engagement on the question.
“I’m glad people are involved, proud Katie and Jack are trying to act, but I encourage people to look at entire picture,” he said.
No matter what the School Board decides Aug. 16, the $50,000 increase is still part of the fiscal year 2013 budget, and Mitchell said a lack of revenue has its consequences.
“If you didn’t have the revenue, what are some of things you would reduce?” he asked.