Senior Parking Explained: What Is It? Where Does The Money Go?

The Forest Scout delved into district financial records and interviewed faculty members in an attempt to find out why parking prices are so high.


Casey Murray, News Editor

Lake Forest High School’s senior parking lot has been a source of controversy almost since it entered service in 2006, with attacks on the high prices being a common rallying cry for students. Since Bobby Winebrenner’s excellent article last month illustrated student sentiment toward those prices, The Forest Scout launched a fiscal investigation into the inner workings of the school district to help clarify the rationale behind them.


The Hard Numbers

Brittany Tjardes, the district’s Director of Business Services, is responsible for managing District 115’s budget. She said the revenue from senior parking spots is used to offset other expenditures.

All of the district’s revenue and spending are divided among seven funds, numbered 10 through 70. Fund 10, for example, consists of all educational spending – about $35.5 million for Fiscal Year 2019 (Fiscal Years run from July 1 to June 30 and are marked by the end year, so FY19 runs from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019). Fund 40 focuses on transportation – all busing services to and from the school, costing the district roughly $1.5 million a year.

Most of the money to finance district operations “comes from property tax dollars,” Tjardes said. “We’re a governmental entity. We do something called a property tax levy every year… [which is] an ask for property tax dollars… Every governmental entity does that.”

Property taxes account for most of the $43,984,271 that the school received for FY19. “Student fees, senior parking, food service revenue – that’s all supplemental on top of the property tax dollars,” Tjardes said.

Senior parking fees in particular net the district around $170,000 a year, all of which is routed into Fund 20, the Operations and Maintenance fund. This represents just over 3 percent of all revenues that are paid into the fund, which covers a broad array of operational costs.

“It’s not just the security of the parking lot,” Tjardes said. “It’s going to be your maintenance, your custodial people that clean the building, the people that do all the maintenance, and your security.”


The Backstory

Student Activities Director Ashleigh Malec, who manages school programs such as the parking spot lottery, said that 129 out of the 144 parking spots are available for the lottery.

“There are some other spots set aside for the parent organizations — Boosters, Applause, PALS, and APT,” Malec said.

The distribution of those 15 spots to parent organizations has been “standing tradition,” Malec said, providing a fundraising source for those organizations, which play a pivotal role in funding LFHS programs and activities. “They can raffle them off in any way they see fit.”

While the senior lottery, per its name, is reserved for seniors, parent organizations can indeed raffle their parking spots to juniors and even sophomores. “They raffle off yearly… and they don’t have to be seniors. You could have a sophomore that could park on campus,” Malec said.

In most years, the lottery, which is held before the start of a semester — generally around the first week of August — plays a major role in the parking spot allocation process. Seniors must make the $725 payment as an insurance of “good faith” before entering the lottery; the money is fully refunded to students who do not win spots. This year was different, as everyone who entered the lottery got a parking space.


The Student Perspective

Junior Jack Lavanway, who has had a spot since the first semester of sophomore year through the Applause raffle, said that the system is “really, really helpful when it works well.”

“It is honestly amazing coming out of [swim] practice and not having to go to remote… However, when I’m not in swim season and I want to leave right after school, it is honestly terrible.”

Lavanway described the behavior of other students and parents, who often play a key role in overcrowding the lot, as “aggressive.”

“Either you have to book it out of school to get out in a timely manner, or you might as well wait till 3:35 in the school before walking out to your car, because that’s how long you’d be waiting in line to get out,” Lavanway said.

Despite the inconveniences, demand remains high. “We have not seen a decrease where our supply is more than our demand,” Tjardes said.


Where it Ends Up

All of District 115’s grounds maintenance operations are run by Grounds Supervisor Tom Reau, who employs two full-time employees at West Campus and one at East. These four people and the two seasonal workers who sometimes join them are responsible for everything that happens outside, from mowing fields to maintaining the senior parking lot.

“Whatever needs to be done outside is what we do,” Reau said. However, the limited size of Reau’s staff imposes some practical constraints on the work that they can do. “If it’s too big of a job, we’ll outsource it,” Reau said. That extends to the senior parking lot, which has occasionally required the grounds team to call in a professional.

Normally, however, the grounds crew does maintenance work on the lot about once a year. The work “might take a week – two weeks – to replace all the broken and disintegrated bricks” when it becomes necessary to repair the wear and tear on the parking lot.

Reau declined to provide an estimate for the average annual spending on maintaining the senior parking lot, but since Fund 20 accounts for many other operations – security, indoors maintenance, the other work of Reau’s staff, et cetera – the lot almost certainly pays for itself and then some.


What it all Means

In general, senior parking helps the district keep its budget afloat, offsetting security and maintenance costs. Parking spot prices are mainly a question of district finance, not one of making students’ lives easier. Costs are unlikely to decrease, even if demand among seniors decreases slightly.

“Say… we’re not selling out the spots,” Tjardes said. “What are some options? Is there anyone out there that would be demanding this? I likely have a whole junior class [to market spots to].”

Whether or not prices will increase is another story. Since the district has a wide variety of budget-balancing options to choose from, “senior parking would not be the first thing on my list to increase revenue” if the budget were unbalanced, Tjardes said. That said, she emphasized that the district thoroughly examines where it could raise revenues; if senior parking is the best or the only place to do that, senior parking prices could indeed increase.