© 2024 Blue Ridge Public Radio
Blue Ridge Mountains banner background
Your source for information and inspiration in Western North Carolina.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Staff shortages mean some CMS after-school programs can't meet NC licensing standards

Grand Oak Elementary students sit in "book boats" during an online reading activity.
Grand Oak Elementary
Grand Oak Elementary students sit in "book boats" during an online reading activity.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will surrender state child-care licenses for six of its 80 after-school sites and relax staffing standards at 21 of them. Associate Superintendent Ann White told the school board this week the changes are needed to cope with staff shortages.

“Like other school districts across the state and nation at this time, there are staffing shortages,” she said. The district’s After School Enrichment Program, known as ASEP, is feeling that pinch.

“There are currently 54 vacancies among ASEP staff. As a result of these staffing challenges ASEP is out of compliance at some sites with regard to licensing requirements,” White said.

North Carolina’s five-star licensing system for child care is designed to distinguish between programs that meet the minimum standards and those that offer more in terms of staffing, equipment, discipline, health and safety. School districts don’t have to license their programs, but CMS does so and most programs have five-star ratings.

Ann White
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Ann White

But White told the board CMS can’t provide on-site coordinators at all schools, as required for a basic license. And it’s falling short of the five-star staffing ratio in several programs.

“Some ASEP sites have received compliance violation citations and letters for repeat violations. Continued violations are public record and may result in probation,” she said.

The board voted to temporarily surrender licenses at six sites: Eastover, Endhaven, Elizabeth Lane, Olde Providence, Palisades Park and Rama Road elementary schools. They’ll share a coordinator with another site while meeting all other licensing requirements, White said.

State licensure allows families who qualify for child-care subsidies to use those subsidies to pay for the CMS programs. White said only one child at those six sites is using a subsidy, and that student will get transportation to another site that remains licensed.

The board also voted to let 21 sites fall below the five-star staffing levels as needed, while meeting the basic level. The five-star standards require no more than 16 or 19 students per adult, depending on students’ age, while the minimum allows 20 or 25.

The sites that got permission to use the more lenient ratio are Bain, Barnette, Davidson, Druid Hills, Eastover, Elizabeth Lane, Endhaven, Grand Oak, Greenway Park, Hornets’ Nest, Huntersville, J.H. Gunn, J.V. Washam, Olde Providence, Palisades Park, Park Road, Rea Farms, Renaissance West, Selwyn, Trillium Springs and Winget Park.

The change won’t automatically cost those sites their five-star licenses, White explained afterward. She said any given site is likely to have only brief stretches when it can’t meet the higher standard. Often that falls between the time school ends and teacher assistants who fill in as substitutes arrive at the site, she said.

“The most important thing is that we are able to continue these programs for our families and for our students,” board member Lenora Shipp said. “We know that it is difficult right now to find staff.”

In February, with attendance disrupted by students moving in and out of remote learning, CMS announced plans to close 60 after-school sites. After outcry from parents and principals, top administrators relented and kept them open.

Board member Sean Strain said staff should have brought the board more options.

“I don’t see a coherent plan to cover the gap,” he said. “We’ve got to go figure this out and staff these positions that our families and our kids are absolutely counting on us to do.”

White says the district is looking at the possibility of raises and signing bonuses to recruit more staff.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Ann Doss Helms covers education for WFAE. She was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer for 32 years, including 16 years on the education beat. She has repeatedly won first place in education reporting from the North Carolina Press Association and won the 2015 Associated Press Senator Sam Open Government Award for reporting on charter school salaries.