Thousands of Wake County teenagers and their parents are seeing sticker shock over how it will now cost $200 per year to park at high schools — an amount far higher than what’s charged by other North Carolina school districts.
The Wake County school board approved a $30 increase in the student parking fee last week as part of a list of options designed to close what school finance staff described as a $25.5 million budget funding gap. The new $200 annual fee is double what other Triangle school districts are charging and also higher than what other large North Carolina school systems charge.
“Two-hundred dollars, it seems crazy to me,” said Jimmy Cvetkovski, 17, a rising senior at Millbrook High School in Raleigh. “I’ve talked to fellow students, I’ve talked to teachers even and I really haven’t found anyone that agrees with the price increase because it’s a lot of money.”
School officials defend the increase by noting it’s the first time the fee has gone up since 2008, when it was raised $50 to $170 a year. Last school year, the district collected $1.35 million in parking fees from 7,950 students. The new increase is projected to raise an additional $225,000.
The new parking fee is equivalent to what was charged in 2008 when adjusted for inflation, according to school board vice chairman Jim Martin.
“When you have to look everywhere for resources, everywhere means everywhere,” Martin said. “We did not have to lay off teachers. We shifted staff from different positions. We had to provide smaller raises than otherwise would have been given to staff.
“It’s our obligation to look at all possible sources. Given that the fee had not been changed since 2008, while none of the options were good options it was one of the less bad options.”
Locally, the school systems in Durham, Johnston and Orange counties charge $75 a year to park at school. The fee is $100 a year in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system.
Wake is the state’s largest school district, and its rate is four times as much as the $50 charged per year in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, the state’s next biggest system. Among other large North Carolina districts, Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools charges $115 a year and the Guilford County school system recently raised the parking fee to $30 for the upcoming school year.
Wake’s fee is also higher than the $85 per semester that Wake Technical Community College charges its full-time students to park on campus.
The parking fee is separate from the fee that many high schools also charge students who want to go off campus for lunch.
Many students are willing to pay the financial costs to avoid relying on the school bus or rides with parents, siblings and friends. Some students say driving to school helps with after-school jobs and extracurricular activities.
“I want to have that freedom to drive,” said Caitlin Carroll, 17, a rising senior at Fuquay-Varina High School.
With activities such as theater that can keep her at school until 10:30 p.m., Carroll said it’s more convenient to drive herself home than to arrange for rides.
On-campus parking is important for many students because options may be limited finding off-campus spots. The phrase commonly used on application forms is that parking is a privilege and not a right for students.
Greear Webb, 17, a rising senior at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, said he understands that the district’s budget issues are leading to the increase. But Webb says it’s going to be a hardship for families who will have a hard time coming up with the money.
“I’m no tax expert, but this is really a tax on parents who have students who drive to school because of the budget gap,” Webb said. “That’s very sad.”
Last week’s decision to raise the fee came after some Wake high schools had already begun collecting money for the new school year. Families who had already paid $170 were told they need to come up with $30 more to keep the parking spot.
“It is absolutely disgusting that you would go back and charge parents an extra $30 for a parking permit retroactively,” Melanie Nunn, a parent, tweeted to Wake on Tuesday. “I paid what was due, and I expect that a parking permit be issued at no additional cost.”
Carroll compared the increase to buying an item online and then being told the price has gone up when you pick it up.
“I don’t think because they’re short on money they should put it on to the students,” Carroll said. “The school is there to provide for the students. The students shouldn’t have to provide for the school.”