Guilford County Schools superintendent talks about speaking before Congress, needs for schools

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — The head of Guilford County Schools is back home after testifying to Congress in Washington.

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras is emphasizing the message that schools across the district have leaky roofs, sewage problems and bug infestations.

She was in Washington to support the Rebuild America’s School Act.

The act would invest $100 billion to create jobs and address critical infrastructure needs.

FOX8 is told if the act does not pass in Congress, there is no backup plan.

Guilford County does not have a feasible, timely way for schools to get the massive amount of money needed to just get the schools up to standard.

“[It’s] just gotten so out of control and so big that no community can do it on their own,” Contreras said.

With $800 million worth of backlogged maintenance problems alone in Guilford County, there’s no end in sight.

“It’s going to take years,” she said. “Not just for us, but across the state and across the nation.”

Just one day after testifying before Congress, Contreras is speaking out about her hopes for the future.

“No county government or community can take that on at one time unless you’re extraordinarily wealthy,” Contreras said. “We can’t expect the county commissioners or the taxpayers to take it on. It would have to be done in three phases of 30, 40 or 50 years. That’s three generations of children before we see new schools. And then you’re back to trying to fix that first phase again. It’s a vicious cycle.”

A cycle that leaves the next generation the most vulnerable, like the students at Morehead Elementary.

“When the heating unit goes out in a mobile unit, we may have to wait weeks or even a couple of months for the the part to repair the heating unit,” Principal Shirel Stipe-Zendle said.

At her school, most students go to class in the old mobile units.

“We have 16 classrooms outside and 12 classrooms inside,” Stipe-Zendle said. “Our oldest unit was build in 1973.”

Morehead Elementary is one of the 126 schools suffering without an up-to-standard building to teach students in.

“A basic need is shelter. We need to shelter the schools so we can do our work better than we are now,” she said.

A better future, however, is completely dependent on lawmakers.

“It’s very important for people to see what the need is. For people to really recognize what’s going on,” Stipe-Zendle said.

“If we can bail out the auto industry, if we can bail out the banking industry, then surely we can take care of the one-sixth of the population who work and attend our schools every single day,” Contreras said.

Contreras tells FOX8 she believes this is a bipartisan issue, but that people need to stop pointing fingers and just fix the problem.

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