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Parking fees drive parent complaints

After seven high school graduations at the USF Sun Dome each year, School Board member Sam Rampello braces for the annual complaint: parents object to a $2 parking fee. "It bothers me because the property is taxpayer property," said Rampello, who brought up the annual pet peeve at a School Board meeting Tuesday. "They're using a facility they helped build. They're using a parking lot they also built with tax dollars."

The district pays $27,800 to the State Fair Expo Hall and the University of South Florida's Sun Dome to hold 14 graduation ceremonies, seven at each hall.

Sun Dome director Mike Lapan said the Sun Dome's share of the money covers the cost of basic services and the Sun Dome doesn't make a profit. He said the fee pays for ushers, spotlights, ticket takers and other costs.

Somewhere in there, Lapan said, the Sun Dome needs to make extra cash to help balance its budget. It makes it with $2 parking fees, which bring in about $17,500, $2,500 at each ceremony.

The $2 fee is a dollar less than the Sun Dome charges for other events. Students and employees who buy a yearly $60 sticker can park for no additional cost, Lapan said.

To park at Exhibition Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds, parents are charged $1, half the regular fee. That charge pays for security guards and people who direct traffic, said Emma Taylor, assistant executive director of the Florida State Fair.

Hillsborough students whose graduation ceremonies take place at their own schools don't pay a fee. In Pinellas County, students at several high schools, including Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, pay $3 to park at Bayfront Center during graduation ceremonies there.

Rampello wants parking fees dropped for local graduations. Managers at both Hillsborough halls say that won't happen.

"Of course, we're in no position to do that," Lapan said. "We've done this for five years to bridge the gap with the high school community, and we think it's a pretty good deal."