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Guilford County parents frustrated after they say ‘Say Yes’ didn’t deliver on one of its programs

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. – Many parents in Guilford County are frustrated after they say "Say Yes" didn't deliver on one of its programs.

The non-profit planned to hire 12 family support specialists and have them in place by the end of last school year.

"Everything that Say Yes has done has been a bait and switch," said Keith Burris, whose daughters go to Southeast Guilford High School.

With another school year underway, there's still no plan in place and Say Yes Guilford doesn't have a clear timeline on when that will happen.

When the idea to bring Say Yes to Guilford County came up years ago, part of the proposal included 12 specialists in 12 schools -- Fairview Elementary, High Point Central High, Ferndale Middle, Northern Elementary, Northern Middle, Northern Guilford High, Eastern Guilford Middle, Eastern Guilford, McLeansville Elementary, Wiley Elementary, Jackson Middle and Smith High.

It's a program designed to set up kids and their families for success in and out of school by connecting them with community resources. Think access to food, clothing, counseling, social services, extra academic help and assistance applying for colleges and financial aid.

The goal isn't to fill any existence gap in school resources, but rather to supplement the work of guidance counselors and social workers in schools.

"Our position was to fit in with the group and be able to support all of their work as they try to make students more successful," said Donnie Turlington, the interim executive director of Say Yes Guilford.

"It was something that I was looking forward to," said Gloridean Boyd, a guidance counselor at Smith High School.

Staff and parents are still hopeful the program will get off the ground, they just don't know when that will be. And others are confused about why Say Yes dollars are going to this program, rather than the scholarship budget.

"I think the program is great. Something like that would be good for the community," Burris said. "The problem you go to is it was promised for scholarships."

Documents on the Say Yes Guilford website are dated. They still show March 2017 as the deadline to select and award a contract to a company that would supply the family support specialists. The website also still shows Say Yes wanted to place the specialists by the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

FOX8 talked with Donnie Turlington, the new interim executive director. He explained this specialist program was part of the deal from the beginning of Say Yes Guilford.

But he also didn't have an answer when we asked him when schools will have their specialists in place.

"That is something that we're working on every single day, so I'm hoping that it's going to be sooner rather than later," he said.

The biggest thing holding them back, according to Turlington, is the price tag and coming up with a sustainable plan to pay from the program long-term.

"That question of the funding is sort of a key thing we're working through right now," he said.

Say Yes has struggled to come up with funding for its other programs this year. Thousands of students lost their eligibility for a full last-dollar tuition college scholarships through Say Yes Guilford after a major miscalculation.

Turlington says the delay in rolling out the family support specialists program is to ensure that mistake doesn't happen again.

"The last thing we want to do is to put those folks in those schools that are truly going to be able to impact those students, but then have the resources not available in year three, four, five, down the road," he said.

Turlington didn't have an estimate for how much money the specialists will cost, but some parents are wondering, why wasn't that calculated to begin with?

"If you're short on money, you don't spend it on something else," Burris said.

Some counselors, like Boyd, are just grateful they're getting extra help from Say Yes, no matter how long the planning takes.

"As long as they come out with something and they have guidelines, it has everything that we need and we can work collaboratively. That's what it's about," she said.

"It's all about the students, at the end of the day, and we've got to find a way that we can continually impact and enhance the lives of our students," Turlington added.

When Say Yes does come up with a long-term plan for the specialists program, they hope to expand it and put specialists in more schools across the district.