CMS Cuts 250+ Jobs and 60 Child Care Facilities in Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board announced they are cutting over 250 jobs from the popular After School Enrichment Program (ASEP) during a budgetary meeting this Tuesday.

The news comes from Chief Academic Officer Brian Kingsley, who explained during the board’s most recent meeting that the COVID-19 pandemic has financially crippled ASEP, leaving them with no choice but to suspend the program.

ASEP services 95 locations while providing over 500 jobs and is the largest licensed childcare provider in all of Mecklenburg County, or at least they were. Those numbers are shrinking fast in the wake of the pandemic, and following the school board’s decision, it will be pared down to just 25 locations. Between the 60 facilities that will be closed approximately 250 jobs will be lost in total.

As Kingsley detailed in his report, the decision to close ASEP was not an easy one but was necessary given the financial state of the program. In 2019, ASEP operated on a net income of $913,000 and has consistently turned a profit since its inception in 1985, according to Kingsley. The pandemic has had a blistering effect on those margins though, turning what once was a profitable program into one that operates at a $4.3 million loss.

“It simply does not make sense, from a dollar and cents perspective, to keep this operation running,” said Kingsley after the meeting. His words were echoed by other members of the board; but Kingsley also held fast to the possibility that ASEP could return in the future. “This is not a full cancellation, but a much needed pause. We expect ASEP could return at some point, but we do not know when that will happen,” he said.

The cutting of ASEP will affect thousands of students, parents, teachers and other staff members directly. Parents like Kelly Hill have been using the ASEP program for over a decade and are now at a loss searching for a replacement.

“When my oldest child was in elementary school there were really no better options as far as convenience and price, so it’s disappointing that such a good low cost option is disappearing,” said Hill.

Beyond the parents and students, the financial toll of the board’s decision will harm the hundreds of newly unemployed, former staff members who are without work in one of the worst job economies in decades. Approximately 200 employees will retain their jobs working in the few child care centers that will remain open. For the others, the harsh reality of a pandemic job market is cause for anxiety and concern.

“I will continue to go to work all the same, but I have friends in other facilities that have lost their jobs and have no answers,” said Rhonda Chapman, a site supervisor for ASEP. Those closed facilities do not just affect the people who staff them, but also the surrounding communities that no longer have access to licensed child care. Over 70% of the departments were cut, and only the most populated, well funded facilities will remain.

Students, parents and former employees alike are left wondering what they will do without ASEP. The future is blurry for now but Superintendent Earnest Winston believes in the possibility of a return.

“The After School Enrichment team has provided tremendous support for our community and we look forward to restoring this valuable program in the future,” said Winston after the meeting on Tuesday.

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