Concerns grow over Guilford County Schools ACES program

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Parents and teachers now know students will do virtual learning the first nine weeks. But what does this mean for staff members who aren’t teachers?

It’s been a very emotional 24 hours for employees of the ACES after-school program after they found out the program would not be included in the first nine weeks of virtual learning.

Three-hundred ACES employees haven’t received a check from the program since June, which is typical during the summer months, but when you don’t know when or if the next one is coming, it can be difficult.

“To see my co-workers crying because we don’t know how we are going to feed our families, how we are going to pay our rent,” said Hayley Crow, ACES site coordinator at Lindley Elementary School.

This is the harsh reality that COVID-19 has put on Guilford County Schools leaders. Having to make a decision on which employees can work, to some capacity, before in school learning is implemented.

“If we’re really trying to support parents, we need to look at how can we provide that as an option, to bring back ACES in a limited capacity because these parents, because of lack of child care, could lose their jobs,” said Byron Gladden, GCS school board member for District 7.

It was a topic that stirred up opinions on both sides. GCS Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras said at Tuesday’s meeting the money simply isn’t there.

“You may not use district funds to pay aces employees under any circumstances. It’s an enterprise fund,” Contreras said.

Lawyers at the meeting explained the way an enterprise fund works is that you cannot borrow money from other places. Child nutrition is also under a separate enterprise fund, but does get help from federal funding for nutrition needs.

ACES employees said they are just as essential as any other GCS employee and that the program needs to continue during the first half of the semester because it is a need for parents who have to go to work and can’t otherwise afford after school care. It typically costs about $50 a week.

“I just want to say it hurts,” said Beth Menefee, ACES coordinator at Hunter Elementary. “We are a part of this school system just as a fifth grade teacher or a fourth grade teacher.”

ACES coordinators told FOX8 they wanted to be included in finding a solution to the funding issue.

After Tuesday night’s meeting, GCS Chief Human Resource Officer Shirley Morrison sent an email to ACES employees.

It reads in part:

“The human resource office is working through options that might provide continued employment for you and other aces employees.”

It goes on to say, someone at the office will contact individuals in the coming weeks.

“You can’t even give us an answer at this point and I think, that’s the most unsettling part,” Crow said.

Crow grew up in and graduated from Guilford County Schools. She decided to dedicate her career to ACES.

“We were able to touch children on a social and emotional learning,” she said.

She was part of the program for COVID-19 relief, watching over children whose parents are essential workers.

“Serve the COVID child care jut to not have a job right now. I think it’s kind of hard to understand how we would not be beneficial now, but we were beneficial at the beginning,” Crow said.

She hopes district leaders will consider utilizing the school buildings that will be vacant because of virtual learning for their program

For Menefee, who helped start the program at Hunter Elementary more than two decades ago, she hopes the kids she works with remember one thing this year.

“They’re going to know that behind this mask, it’s Ms. Menefee saying, ‘I love you to the moon and back,’” she said. “I’m still going to love you and I’m still going to see you in some way.”

Administrators said they want the program to come back if they decide in September to go with the plan B model after virtual learning.

Going forward, Gladden said, GCS has to figure out is how they are going to get computers and Wi-Fi to those who need it and how they can do so quickly with the school year steadily approaching.

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