Editorial: Parking system in need of reform
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At least ten Whitman students searched the parking lot for their vehicles to no avail Tuesday, March 19. After threatening to tow students with in-school announcements and issuing orange warning stickers to illegally parked cars, the administration called Montrose Towing Company in Rockville, which charged students release fees ranging from $50 to $168.
The crackdown on students without permits has drawn criticism and condemnation from students who feel the punishment is overly harsh. Indeed, a punishment that forces students to drive 13 miles to the towing center and pay a maximum of $168 is disproportionate to the crime. The question arises: how can the administration establish a system that doesn’t unfairly punish students while maintaining order in the parking lot?
A March 21 Facebook post by SGA president Jacob Rosenblum about parking received more than 90 comments in a four-hour span. Students voiced their frustrations with towing—a punishment many argue is overly harsh—and with the payment and hassle necessary to earn a spot. Though reforms to the current system are indubitably necessary, it’s important that students are aware of county regulations that restrict the administration’s ability to reform the current system.
Due to a larger volume of parking permit applications this semester, fewer students were given spots in the lot, business manager Eddy Campbell said. Many students have been refused spots due to lack of availability, a failure to bring in payment by the deadline (a date set by the county) or outstanding obligations. Despite being denied parking spaces, many seniors and juniors without spots continued to park in the main lot. After the administration responded by towing vehicles, many students without permits choose to park near the baseball fields, in some cases leaving their vehicles precariously positioned on the hill adjacent to the tennis courts.
Many students have taken issue with the $37.50 fee required to purchase a parking space. It is the county, not the school, which requires spots to be sold to students at this price. Revenue from parking permits goes towards Whitman’s athletic funding, Campbell said. In a hypothetical example, if the county planned to provide $10,000 of athletic funding to Whitman, and the school raised $2,000 in revenue from issuing parking permits, the county would only provide $8,000 worth of funding to the athletic program. The $2,000 would supplement this funding. The county, not the school, benefits from charging students for parking permits.
Many students have criticized the existence of any fee for parking spots. These students contend that having a place to park at a public school—where attendance is mandatory—amounts to a student’s fundamental right. This argument is erroneous on two counts. First, a parking space is a privilege, not a right. It’s the responsibility of the county to provide feasible transportation to school to all students, and they achieve this through bussing students free of charge. The county does not, however, have a duty to ensure students are able to transport themselves to school by the method most preferable or convenient for them. If they did, the county would be obligated to have a bus pull up to every non-driving student’s front door.
Second, if for some reason a student must drive themselves to school, there are other (albeit less convenient) places to park. Students are able to park by the baseball fields or on some streets in the surrounding neighborhood, so the county and administration are not denying anyone the right to drive to school.
To tow or not to tow?
Inevitably, students will violate the current system by parking without a permit or in the incorrect spot. Towing is too harsh a punishment for a relatively minor crime, but the administration needs some means of enforcing its rules.
In an editorial last May, the Black & White advised the county to eliminate a rule forbidding schools from issuing students smaller, $20 fines for parking offenses. The county prohibited this practice because financial punishments are an inappropriate form of discipline and schools could give out excessively large fines, Campbell said. The administration then replaced a fairly inexpensive and sensible solution to the parking problem with a practice dramatically more costly to students and pads the wallet of a third party with no benefit to the school. The Black & White still maintains that the county should end its ban on school issued fines, but without county action, the school must do its best to remedy a broken system.
Many students have proposed that the administration issue students general parking passes instead of assigning each student a space. By doing so, the administration would mitigate the chain reaction of students parking in the incorrect spots. This could serve to add some semblance of order to the parking lot.
In addition, the administration could choose to issue more parking permits than there are spots in the main lot. Each day, parking spots would be available to students with permits on a first come first serve basis. This would ensure that few spots are wastefully left empty, and as a bonus, encourage students to arrive at school on time. Because the vast majority of students who wanted a parking spot would be given a permit, towing would become a rare occurrence. In a meeting with SGA president Jacob Rosenblum and Black & White Editor-in-Chief Isaac Rubin, principal Alan Goodwin was open to this possibility, and said he would explore the issue with the county.
Students’ anger and frustration at being denied a parking space (or worse, being forced to pony up $100 plus to a towing company) is certainly justifiable. However, rather than angrily condemning the administration and students with differences of opinion, our student body’s energy should be directed towards brainstorming fair and sensible improvements to a system in dire need of reform.