Before anyone goes raising property taxes, the lowest hanging fruit for raising revenue is parking fees for students and school employees. And yet, Saucon Valley School District is mulling the removal of parking fees.
Some of the Board members seem not to understand how this works. Here’s Lanita Lum:
It irks Saucon Valley School Director Lanita Lum that students must pay $20 to park in the high school parking lot while everyone else gets to park for free…
“It may seem like peanuts, $20 for a kid to pay for a parking pass, but they don’t charge anybody else,” Lum said. “I know it’s a little issue but I think it makes a huge statement.”
And here’s Susan Baxter:
While Baxter said she doesn’t have any strong feelings about the fundraising, she agrees students should be able to park for free. The board considered the parking fee along with a slew of other revenue-generating options, such as pay-to-play. Baxter opposed the fee then and still does today.
“We need a parking lot and it’s not because the students are driving to school that we need a parking lot,” Baxter said.
This is bizarre. Why else would you need such a big parking lot if students weren’t driving to school? Free parking is a strong incentive to drive to school, and fewer students would do it if it was more expensive.
Here’s the situation: the school district owns a limited amount of land. The physical school building takes up some of the land. Athletic fields take up some of the land. And parking takes up some of the land. The school building produces value, and the athletic fields produce value, but the parking lots consume value, producing nothing. It would be much better to shrink the amount of space devoted to parking, and replace it with uses that produce value for the school district and the taxpayers, such as more classroom space.
What Lanita Lum and Susan Baxter want to do is drastically increase the demand for parking by taking away pricing. If you take away the price, some kids who live in nearby neighborhoods will decide to drive instead of walk. Kids who could be taking the bus will drive instead. If you charge teachers and adminstrators to park, some will respond by carpooling or taking the bus.
Ms. Lum has a good point that it’s unfair to charge students $20 for parking if everyone else is parking for free, but it’s unfair because everyone else should be paying to park too.
The real “huge statement” the current policy makes, and what the auction shows, is that parking is valuable and it is expensive. Student drivers are subsidizing free parking for school district employees. If school district employees also paid to park, the money could be spent on replacing lost revenue from Tom Corbett’s budget cuts or reducing the fee for students.
The “huge statement” Ms. Lum and Ms. Baxter are making in their crusade to introduce a a commons problem in the school parking lot is that students who can’t afford a car ought subsidize wealthier students who can.
Cars are expensive. Lots of high school students are not wealthy enough to afford a car, so they walk or take the bus to school. They do not benefit when the school districts subsidizes free parking with higher property taxes. If wealthier families and school district employees pay for parking, everyone else can pay lower property taxes. If parking is free, property taxes must be higher to offset the cost.
Removing the parking fee for students who drive to school would be a straightforward regressive subsidy from poor families to wealthy families.