FORT MYERS - School board members are hoping some parents won't have to pay to park again at next year's graduation ceremonies.
Families were fuming back in May when they showed up for graduation at the Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers only to get stuck with parking fees they weren't expecting.
At the time, school board member Don Armstrong said he didn't want to "see any more events" at Harborside. But the school district announced five graduations are scheduled to take place at Harborside in May 2013.
The city, which runs Harborside, was accused by parents of "price gouging" after they hired a valet company that charged families and students $6 and $8 to park close to the venue.
The city got a cut of the money.
"Why are we taking advantage of this situation?," asked school board member Don Armstrong back in May. "These people work hard for their money."
The city said charging for parking was supposed to be a convenience for parents. The decision upset many in the school district, who threatened not to work with Harborside again.
"I don't want to see any more events here," said Armstrong, "if that's how our parents and taxpayers are going to be treated."
"We are looking at some other options," said Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke at a June board meeting. "We are talking with other venues."
Armstrong says the district reserved Harborside so they wouldn't lose it. He says there are only so many venues that can hold a large number of students and points out that no contract has been signed yet.
"Things can change minute to minute," said Armstrong.
"So there's a chance," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant, "graduation could not be held at Harborside?"
"Oh there's always a chance," said Armstrong.
Officials with the city, which owns Harborside, declined to comment. Instead, they referred us to a Harborside spokeswoman who was out of town.
Fox 4 sent an email to that spokespwoman but it was not immediately returned.
Armstrong says he would vote against any contract that would make parents pay for parking again, calling it "unfair" since other venues - like Germain Arena - do not make parents pay to park.
Board member Jeanne Dozier says she too would be reluctant to approve a contract that asked parents and students to pay for parking.
"At all the other venues we use parking is included and I would like to see that int his contract as well," said Dozier. "I just am almost adamant that I don't want to see any surprises down there on graduation night."
Some in the district wonder why the city charged for parking at high school graduations last year but did not charge for parking at other events, like the recent News Press Education Summit attended by several hundred people.