Track team charged patrons to park at event

Parking fee came without OUSD permission


OCEANSIDE — When Carlsbad High School junior Cameron Gage arrived at the parking lot of Oceanside High School on April 3 for his track meet, he said he was met with a surprise.

Gage was told at the school entrance that it would cost $5 for him to park for the track meet, the fourth annual Willie Banks Invitational, which is the region’s largest high school track event, attended by 14 schools and hundreds of athletes across Southern California.

He took to Twitter to complain about the parking fee.

“How is Oceanside going to charge you $5 to park…in a public school parking lot?” Gage tweeted.

The Oceanside High Track and Field Team, which puts on the annual event, said the parking fee was a fundraiser for the club, and helps pay for the team’s activities.

Upwards of 500 people attended the event as spectators.

The track team has charged for parking for the four years the track invitational has been held, said Willie Buchanon, one of the school’s most famous alumni who currently serves as a track coach.

“We’ve been doing this for four years and it never has been a problem until you brought it up,” Buchanon said to a reporter this week.

Buchanon said that he wasn’t sure how much money was raised by the parking fee.

But school district officials said they were unaware that the track team charged people for parking at the event, or that the parking lot fee was part of the fundraiser. This, officials from a state agency that provides schools with fiscal advice, is a problem.

“We believe it is clear that the governing board is responsible for approving fund-raising events,” said Anthony Bridges, the deputy executive officer of the Fiscal Crisis and Asset Management Team, an agency that provides school districts with fiscal advice and management assistance. “As a practical matter, the board would want to know about the fundraiser so as to avoid conflicts with other activities that are going on at school where people might need to use the parking lot.”

Oceanside school district officials said that each group that plans on using a facility or hosting a fundraiser must get permission from the district in advance. Fundraisers are approved at the beginning of the school year, and facilities requests are processed as they are submitted.

The track team’s approved fundraisers and the facilities request made no mention of parking fees, said Christopher Wright, the school district’s associate superintendent of business services.

“We didn’t know they were charging for parking,” Wright said. “To our knowledge this is the only event that is charging to park in one of the district’s parking lot, and we didn’t know about it until recently.”

Buchanon said the district’s facility use form doesn’t include a place to list parking information, but that coaches attending the event are informed about the parking situation in advance in packets that each coach receives before the event.

“We inform them in advance that parking is very limited (on campus) and that to park in the main lot off Mission is $5 and it will include a program,” Buchanon said. “For parents who are not willing to pay, we tell them to park in the residential areas west of the school off of Horne Street, and that parents can drop off their kids and then go find parking.

“Even Willie Banks had to pay for parking,” Buchanon said of the world record-setting triple jumper that is the event’s namesake.

Bridges, whose agency has provided guidance on administering associated student body groups, said school district properties are governed by the Civic Center Act, which governs how districts manage the use of its facilities with non-school organizations. The act states that control of these facilities are vested in the school district’s governing board.

In other words, only the district has control over use of the facilities, including fundraisers involving the use of them, Bridges said.

“An associated student body club, booster club or any other organization wouldn’t be allowed to charge people to park on school grounds because that authority lies with the district,” Bridges said. “So, as to the question of whether it is a common practice for ASB or booster groups to charge the public, the decision to allow such a practice would be one that is a local decision but not one that I have commonly heard of.”

A school district could require a group to refund the money to the district, which could then refund to individuals who paid for parking, if it is found to be operating outside of the Civic Center Act guidelines. In more severe breaches of the act, a district could bar the organization from using district facilities, Bridges said.

Buchanon said that he has attended track meets at public high schools in Los Angeles and Orange counties where they have charged for parking. Local schools might not charge because they are able to raise funds directly from the athletes, which is not an option at Oceanside High, which has a large number of lower-income students.

“There are so many other things going on in Oceanside other than a track team trying to raise money for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get involved,” Buchanon said.  “Other schools don’t charge maybe because they have the capacity so they can make up the funds in other ways.”

Wright said the district would discuss the fundraiser in question with the track and field team. Buchanon said if the district does not grant permission to charge for parking, they would stop.

“The bottom line, if we are doing something wrong and the district tells us not to do it, we won’t do it,” Buchanon said. “If we made a mistake, we made a mistake. I would not try to do something to jeopardize the program and do something illegal.

“But there will be a fifth annual Willie Banks Invitational in 2016, you can count on that,” Buchanon said.

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