Schools' Parking Fee Dents Loudoun Teens' Lifestyles

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 12, 2009

When Loudoun County high schools raised the cost of parking permits from $25 to $200 this fall, students saw not only huge bills but also a blow against an inalienable right of suburban teenage life.

Driving to school is a cherished rite of passage, and the parking permit is second only to the driver's license in the suburban teen's Declaration of Independence from Mom and Dad.

Plus, in a community defined by sprawling shopping centers surrounded by acres of free paved lots, the concept of paying to park sounds vaguely . . . foreign.

"You're parking your car somewhere. Why should you pay for that?" said Brett Fulcer, 17, a junior at Heritage High School in Leesburg, where the lot is so massive that sophomores with licenses can buy permits and it takes at least 40 minutes for traffic to clear after school. Schools have different structures for who can buy a permit; at Heritage, all licensed students are eligible.

Principals use two words when responding to unhappy students and parents. The first is "privilege" -- as in, parking at school is a privilege, not a right. And it's a privilege that can be taken away for plummeting grades or too many tardies.

The second word is "bus."

"The big yellow school buses are always available," said Heritage High principal Margaret Huckaby.

Of course, principals, teachers and other staff members usually don't have to pay to park. But the school bus really isn't an option for them, they say.

In Loudoun, parking isn't the only fee denting wallets. Under a new system, student athletes have to pay $100 for each sport, and in the spring, the county will stop picking up the $86 tab for each AP test. But the parking permits have stirred up the most ire.

"Maybe next year there will be a fee to sit in a chair at lunch, because that's a privilege, too," said Russ Borman, father of a Briar Woods High School senior. "It just goes against what we would think is a normal and fair practice."

"You see it in the paper every day: The economy is down; people are losing their jobs. Then for them to try to hit up families to subsidize the budget?" said Jeff Brodbeck, whose daughter Michelle is a junior at Heritage. "It's not very family friendly."

School board members say they are trying to catch up to prices charged in nearby districts and need to make up for a $70 million budget shortfall largely created by cuts in county funding. Fairfax County also charges $200 for parking, but most schools in the Washington region charge less than $100.

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