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UPDATE: Compromise sought over Scarborough student fees

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UPDATE: Compromise sought over Scarborough student fees

SCARBOROUGH — A week after an Aug. 16 School Board vote approving a $50 annual student parking fee for the upcoming high school year, a parent said the board and opponents of the fees are seeking a compromise.

Mike Gilbert, the father of two high school students and president of the field hockey booster club, said he and senior class President Jack Sullivan have approached School Board Chairman Bob Mitchell with a plan to ensure the School Department receives anticipated revenue this year and will not have to cut supplies or personnel.

Gilbert said the plan would require the board to set up a committee consisting of a board member, school administrator, students and parents to discuss future methods of boosting revenue.

In the offer, current fees of $100 for athletics and $50 for extracurricular activities would remain unchanged for 24 months, with no new fees instituted. The School Board would also be asked to approach the Town Council for $50,000 of municipal surplus to cover the budgeted increase in fee revenues for the current fiscal year.

In the compromise offer, fee caps per semester and family would be instituted, too. Gilbert noted the parking and athletic fees amount to about $700 annually, a cost he splits with his children. He said he knows of families paying more than $1,000 per year in various fees.

Mitchell on Thursday said he received an email from Gilbert and confirmed details of the proposed compromise, but has not discussed it with the full board. He said no schedule for discussing the proposal has been set and no board action has been taken.

While welcoming the increased participation in budget discussions, Mitchell said it would be unlikely the board would ask for council assistance to fill the revenue gap.

"I don't see that occurring," he said.

Mitchell added the expectation remains that students will pay the $25 per semester parking fee before school opens Sept. 5. If the revenue is not earned as anticipated, it will be discussed by the board as part of the panel's quarterly financial review.

"We figure out where we are on the whole budget, and that is only one component," Mitchell said.

Gilbert said he and Sullivan approached board members several days after the 6-1 vote in favor of the policy and specific fees.

The immediate response to the vote was a student plan to "boycott the lot and flood the buses," Sullivan said last week.

Sullivan and Gilbert also considered a petition drive to place a referendum question banning all student fees on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The point of increased bus usage was to establish students who drive to school actually save the district money in transportation costs, but Gilbert said his daughter pointed out why plans to boycott parking were impractical. 

She noted student athletes tend to store athletic gear in their vehicles. Finding room for gear on already overcrowded buses, and trying to store it in school lockers ad not been fully considered when the boycott was proposed.

With Jackie Perry opposed, the board approved a fee reduced from the original suggestion of $100 annually. The vote came after about 40 minutes of public comment, where only Paul Koziell spoke in favor of the proposed fee.

"In my mind this is a use fee. It is no different than a toll. It is no different than a  parking meter," said Koziell, a Lillian Way resident who is also chairman of the Wentworth Intermediate School Building Committee.

Before the public comments began, Mitchell said the School Department ended the last fiscal year with a surplus of about $200,000, an amount he called "negligible."

It was a word Gunstock Road resident Pat Dryzga used as he told the board the cost of adding more buses and drivers would cost far more than the intended revenue from parking fees.

"If $200,000 is 'negligible,' then $25,000 must be invisible," Dryzga said.

The lack of late bus service means students like junior Mary Cleary would have to also pay to park or rely on someone to pick them up at the end of the day.

"These fees are more parent fees, because like many students, I am unemployed," she said. "I can no longer stay to work with my teachers or take a test I may have missed."

Student fees in Scarborough have come and gone over the last decade, but were fully reinstated and expanded in the fiscal year 2011 budget.

Last year, the board budgeted $150,000 in fee revenue. Director of Business Operations Kate Bolton said the department earned more than $135,000.

Combined spending for athletics and extra-curricular activities is budgeted at $833,000 this year.

Gilbert said a compromise that would keep current fees in place for two years gives the board leeway to cope with cuts in federal or state aid.

School Board member Kelly Murphy defended the parking fees by comparing them to beach parking fees on lots built with taxpayer money.

"It is not an unreasonable amount of money," she said.

Town Clerk Tody Justice said the specific parking fees can not be overturned at the polls, but a general referendum question eliminating all student fees could be on the local ballot Nov. 6 if at least 2,378 signatures from registered voters are certified. Petitions would have to be submitted by Sept. 21. Ballots will be prepared on Oct. 7.

She recommended organizers on any drive get at least 300 signatures above the Town Charter requirement of 25 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Updated Aug. 23 to include details of a compromise plan.