After reviewing the statistics gathered from a survey of students and parents this school year, the BOE ad-hoc parking committee, advised the board to not pursue the option, citing the current global economic situation and the current board fiscal outlook, including decreasing state aid.
According to the survey, which was conducted back in February 36.2% of parents would not be willing to pay for a parking permit for their child at an off-street site, and 39.7% would be willing to pay up to $100.
Students, as well, expressed very similar opinions; 36.0% said they would not be willing to pay anything and 33.3% said they would be willing to pay up to $100.
Also, over 50% of the parents who participated in the survey answered that providing off-street parking for students near WHS would not be an acceptable use of public funds.
The BOE estimates that the cost per space per year, not including maintenance and monitoring of the parking lot as well as lighting, would be $750. The cost would cover the rent being charged by the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for the parking lot at the Armory. Under the agreement being negotiated between the town government and BOE with the state military department, students would pay for annual permits to use the parking lot to offset taxpayer costs.
"It does not seem that given the response that students and parents are only willing to pay up to $200 a year that [a leased parking lot behind the Armory] is an option," said BOE member Ginny Leiz, the parking committee's chairwoman.
The survey also addressed whether or not paying for excessive parking tickets was a motive behind providing off-street parking to students. According to the survey, only 8% of parents said their child has received more than three parking tickets since their child began driving to school, and over 70% said their child hasn't received any.
Leiz said that judging by the data, not having to pay for parking tickets is obviously not a motive for parents' wishes for off-street parking.
Leiz indicated she and other BOE members have briefed the Town Council's public safety, transportation and parking committee about the findings and continue to make them aware of issues relating to high school parking. During last year's campaign, high school parking became a top issue between Councilman Keith Loughlin and former Councilman Tom Bigosinski in their battle for the fourth ward seat.
The board agreed with BOE President Julia Walker when she said that the idea for off-street parking behind the Armory was worth talking about when it was first addressed. However, she said, after Gov. Chris Christie decided in March to slash $4.22 million in state education aid and $941,000 in state municipal aid to Westfield, the idea is no longer feasible. Since the budget cuts, Walker has noted the board is studying every proposal with an eye towards the current and future budgets, including the possibility of a 2.5% hard property tax cap being imposed by constitutional amendment.
During the public portion of the meeting, two residents of the high school neighborhood addressed the board about the parking situation and challenged members to address the concerns of the residents.
"Another year, another nothing," Mike Neimeth of Dorian Road said. "What are we supposed to do? It's been 10 years."
Neimeth said that with all the traffic around the high school, specifically students making K-turns in driveways and backing up, he is concerned for the safety of younger children and drivers in the neighborhood. He noted that the parked cars along Dorian and side streets have limited visability for residents looking to leave their driveways.
"I believe there are safety issues that have been ignored by the Board of Education," he said.
Neimeth asked the board why they didn't broaden the scope of the survey and send it to all residents. Walker replied that the school board's primary constituency is students and their families, not area residents.
"This is a Board of Education and we serve the students of Westfield," she said. "Our constituency is the students and parents."
"The residents around the high school have younger students," he said. "I am talking about residents."
Before stepping down from the podium, Neimeth suggested using remaining money from the 2001 facilities bond for improvements to WHS to build a circular driveway with faculty parking, much like Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School. He said this would allow students to park in the high school parking lot, therefore alleviating parking pressure on the nearby streets. Students were permitted to park in the high school lot until earlier this decade.
The board voted earlier in the meeting to refund remaining funds from the financing of the bonds, citing favorable interest rates. The bonds covered a variety of improvements to the high school buildings and grounds and to the Kehler Stadium complex.
Neimeth called the board to task for not including the issue of open lunch in the survey, noting that students utilize their cars to travel to downtown restaurants during the open lunch period. The survey asked for reasons for driving to school and the open lunch was not listed on the responses. Neimeth suggested reducing the option which is for juniors and seniors.
"Open lunch should be a privlege for seniors, maybe in the second half of the year, not juniors," he said.
Charles Hoyer, also of Dorian Road, followed Neimeth by telling the board the despite its primary responsibility to the students, it also has a responsibility to be a good neighbor to the residents living in the vicinity of WHS.
Walker closed the discussion by saying that even though the leased parking lot behind the armory building will not happen, the issue of WHS parking is not over. She said the board plans to continue seeing what types of prices the state military department will be asking for the lot in the future and if they are willing to negotiate on the price. She noted changes to the budget situation in the future could also play a role in deciding to move foward on renting space at the facility for students parking.
"This was a very narrow look," she said.