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Is Your Kid Paying For Parking To Go To High School? Here's How To Challenge It.

September 9th, 2014

Is Your Kid Paying For Parking To Go To High School? Here's How To Challenge It.

My kid goes to government school where they demanded he pay $40 per year to park in the school's parking lot. I was able to request the district to drop parking fees at not only his high school, but all of the area schools. I want to tell you how I did it and embolden others to campaign for change where they feel it makes sense.

Since bus service in many places has been halted, students have to be driven to school by their parents or drive themselves to K-12 school. It's not uncommon for San Diego area high schools to charge parking fees of $10 to $40 per year. My kidís school charged $40. This led many kids to seek out nearby off-street parking while the school parking lot was never full.

When pressed about this fee, school officials claim that charging for parking is permissible and may even point to language on their web site. Others may claim the money goes towards security to prevent auto thefts. Just because a school claims they have a right doesnít mean they actually have the authority. The California constitution guarantees every child a free K-12 education and charging for parking would violate that precept. How they spend it is not relevant to the question if they have the legal authority to charge for a parking lot that was built and maintained by property taxes and school bonds.

The first step to a challenge is to collect public information to insure your position is factual. A simple email should be sent to the district superintendent asking for documents related to the issue. They are required to provide existing relevant documents, but not to create new documents.

---------- email message ----------

From: Michael Robertson
Date: Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 4:41 PM
Subject: CPRA Request
To: District-Superintendent

I am requesting all documents related to billing, collection and expenditures of parking permit fees at district high schools from 2012-2013.

Thanks.

------------------------------------------------

These documents revealed that the San Dieguito district collected around $77,000 last year in parking fees. Also it showed that they only charged students and not teachers or administrators. I forwarded these documents onto a local education activist Sally Smith as well as a local reporter Marsha Sutton. Sally penned a Uniform Complaint and sent it to the district. Donít be intimidated by the official sounding title. Itís simply a document outlining the objection to a specific issue.

Marsha wrote a revealing article garnering more public light than a posting on my blog would have done. Sallyís complaint made a strong case about why the district did not have the authority to charge fees for several activities (parking, athletics, and photography). And to the parking fees specifically, she pointed out that government operations cannot charge fees to some citizens and not to others which they do because they charge students but not others who use the same parking lot.

Unsurprisingly, the district responded affirming their right to charge parking fees just as UC and Cal State colleges do. The obvious difference there is that the California constitution doesnít guarantee a free college education as it does for K-12. More emails were traded with both sides outlining their position.

Over the summer I asked for a meeting with the Superintendent Rick Schmidtt to discuss the parking fees and other issues. He accepted my request and at a local Starbucks I expressed how the parking fees was a significant amount of money for many students. I emphasized how this was an issue I planned to continue to pursue until it was overturned. He listened and surprisingly admitted his own daughter was relegated to off-campus parking while attending the same high school. We parted ways with him saying the district was analyzing the situation.

A week before the new school year, I learned that parking would be free for the entire district. Later that month the board OKed an official policy change. The Superintendent was clearly instrumental in the change. I also learned that after reading Marshaís column at least one board member concluded that parking fees were inappropriate.

This is a tiny victory for community activism thanks in large part to a group effort. I hope it can be a blueprint for involvement on an issue where government intersects your life and you think they could do a better job.

--MR

michael@michaelrobertson.com


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