HOOPESTON — Ashley Baker has been looking forward to the day her daughter, Alisyn Watson, could finally drive to school almost as much as her daughter has.
“She’s involved in a lot of extracurricular activities,” she said of her daughter, an incoming junior at Hoopeston Area High School. “She sometimes has to be here really early in the morning or stay late. I babysit my niece and nephew, so it’s going to be really convenient that she can drive herself back and forth.”
Baker was surprised to learn this summer that students who drive to school will have to pay to park, starting this year. But the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea.
“It’s going to be a safety improvement, and the cost is minimal,” she said of the $10-a-year permit fee.
Hoopeston school officials added the new parking-permit policy to the school's student handbook when they updated the manual last spring, said Principal John Klaber.
Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond High School will also implement a policy this year, with permits costing $2 annually. It and Hoopeston join a number of other East Central Illinois schools whose parking programs have been around for a while, some for at least 25 years.
“What we’re hoping to accomplish is really multi-faceted, and the main reason has to do with school safety,” Klaber said, adding that students have been issued red permits and staff blue ones, while visitors will be required to display black ones while on campus, though the latter two groups don’t pay.
“Through the course of the day,” he continued, “there are a lot of cars that come in and out, whether it’s students, staff or visitors. This is way to help us know who is here in the event of a crisis situation.”
For example, if there were a situation where vehicles would need to be moved on the lot, Klaber said officials could figure out who they belonged to quickly.
“Even if we just had a car that was double-parked or the lights were on, we could look and quickly get that student without disrupting the educational setting. Before, I’d have to get on the P.A. system and say, ‘Whoever has the blue Honda, please come to the office. Your lights are on,’ to find out who it belonged to.”
Klaber hopes the policy will also encourage safe driving on school grounds.
“If someone isn’t following the rules of the road or being safe while in the parking lot, we can pull their tag, and they wouldn’t be allowed to drive to school,” he said. “We have a lot of walkers, especially with the high school being attached to the middle school. Students need to know they have to be responsible and that safety is always paramount.”
Klaber said officials researched other schools’ parking-permit fees and tried to be mindful of the cost when setting Hoopeston’s.
For that reason, he said, students only pay for one permit, and they can transfer them to different vehicles.
“We have students who may drive their mom’s car one day and a different car another day,” he said. “We did not want it to be a hindrance to anyone, but we still get all of the great benefits of moving to this.”
By Thursday morning, the third and final day of registration, the high school had issued 70 permits.
Klaber anticipates that number will be closer to 100 when school starts and gradually increase to around 150 throughout the year as more sophomores get their licenses.
He added that the fees will “mostly pay for the tag, which is a high-quality material,” he said. “If there’s money left over, we’ll use it in buildings and grounds to help resurface our parking lots.”
Around the area, Arcola, Fisher, Monticello, Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Westville high schools are among those that don’t charge students to park. However, Monticello and Westville students are required to place a tag in their windshield.
“This sticker just helps easily identify cars during supervision in an effort to more easily understand who is on our campus,” Westville Superintendent Seth Miller said, adding the practice has been in place for more than a decade.
Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin, Centennial, Mahomet-Seymour and Rantoul Township high school students are among those who fork over the most money for parking privileges.
Rantoul reserves 17 spots in its parking lot for students, said Superintendent Scott Amerio.
“One of those is given away at our post-prom event the year before,” he said. “The other spots can be rented for $50 per semester,” he said.
Amerio said the fee raises about $1,600 a year, and the school uses the money for incentives and rewards for students.
Centennial also has limited parking for students, said David Brauer, Unit 4's communications director. That school and Mahomet-Seymour both charge $50 a year.
“Due to construction, parking permits are offered to seniors first and then to others if there are any left,” he said, adding that if they can’t park on the lot, they have to find street parking.
Brauer said the fee revenue is used to offset costs for lot maintenance.
Mahomet-Seymour has taken in about an average of $16,000 in fees for the past three years, Superintendent Lindsey Hall said. It goes into the education fund and isn’t earmarked for anything in particular.
Their counterparts at Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin pay $10 a quarter, or $49 a year.
“We make around $2,000 to $3,000 annually,” said BHRA Superintendent Scott Watson, adding the parking fees have been in place for about 15 years. “We use that money for minor parking-lot repairs or snow-removal costs.”
Elsewhere, St. Joseph-Ogden and Georgetown-Ridge Farm students pay $20 a year.
“If they only need it for the second semester, then it is a $10 cost,” said SJ-O Superintendent Brian Brooks.
Brooks said his school’s policy predates his tenure at the school, “but the primary reason ... is we don’t have enough parking spots typically for every student that can drive by the time we get to second semester. Our spots are also numbered, so this gives them a guaranteed spot, no matter what time they come into school. Some of our students have late arrival or may even take a class at Parkland first thing in the morning.
“All of these things help eliminate chaos in the parking lot each days, which then creates a safer environment for kids.”
Like Georgetown-Ridge Farm, SJ-O earmarks its fee revenue for parking-lot maintenance.
Meanwhile at Salt Fork, the $5-a-year fee students pay, along with registration fees, are put toward building supplies “that go to benefit students,” Superintendent Phil Cox said.
“It’s a way to raise some additional revenue — and for students to understand that driving to school is a privilege, not a right,” Cox said.