Breckenridge child care centers move to raise base pay for teachers

Little Red Schoolhouse in Breckenridge is pictured on May 9. Directors in all of the town's child care centers are working to raise base pay for full-time teachers.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

Come this fall, child care workers in Breckenridge are expected to see a raise in base pay for early childhood-educated, full-time teachers to combat rising costs of living and recruitment challenges. 

Greta Shackelford, executive director of Little Red Schoolhouse, said that raising the base pay was always a goal, but plans to get it done were put together in recent weeks.

“At L​​ittle Red, we are lucky with our longevity of staff, but there’s a lot that aren’t serving as many children because they don’t have staff,” Shackelford said. “Another piece of the puzzle is the capacity issues. Everybody in the county knows we have extremely long wait lists. To make sure we can serve as many children as possible, we have to have the staff to do that.”

The increased pay for teachers will be reflected in the true cost of care for parents, which is expected to go up by 15% to 20%, according to the Breckenridge Child Care Advisory Committee. Any increase in rate will not happen until September when the new tuition cycle begins. Because costs are expected to go up, increased access to child care assistance has already been approved for enrolled families. 

“I hope that it means that they are more financially stable — that they can stay in our community, which is an extremely expensive place to live, and can settle down if they’re ready,” Shackelford said. “They can buy a home, start a family and contribute to their household without having to live with lots of roommates and not be working two or three jobs. I know in this county everybody does, but when you’re working with young children for 10 hours, and then you’re going home, it’s exhausting.”

In April, Breckenridge Town Council approved the child care committee’s pitch to expand the tuition assistance program to more families. That approval made three updates: one specified that at least one member of the household has to work for a business in Summit County, another increased the income cap for assistance and the third update expanded the sliding scale to include more income levels.

The reason for the update was to support families that have multiple young children. A family with two infant/toddler-aged students would pay upward of $43,000 before tuition assistance. 

Now, families that make up to 180% of the area median income — or approximately $179,000 for a family of four — would be eligible for some assistance, though not as much as a lower-income family.  

“It was definitely targeted around doing all of this at the same time, so that we could help the most families,” housing and child care administrator Austyn Dineen said. “So with a significant increase in the fall, our staff is working diligently to make sure that all families know to apply for the tuition assistance program, because more families will be eligible (and) that percentage paid toward child care compared to their income will go up. If the rates are more, people will be paying more of their income for child care, and thus, potentially be eligible for tuition assistance.”

Exact copays for families depend on multiple circumstances, including family income, number of children in care, household size, days child care is used, residency and priority for workers in Breckenridge. In addition to expanded access to assistance, Summit pre-K will expand to 3-year-olds and statewide efforts to bring free preschool to all Colorado children passed in the Legislature this year, which Dineen said would bring more support for child care workers as well as parents.

Another piece of providing child care in Breckenridge, Shackelford said, is recruiting. Currently, there are 16 open positions across all child care centers in Breckenridge. Though not all of the positions are teachers, a raise in base pay will provide more financial stability for new teachers, she added.

“I think teachers are always underpaid,” Shackelford said. “We just have to lead — our community, state, whatever — in changing that thinking. There’s a lot of easier jobs out there that pay a whole lot better. (Teachers) work so hard, and whether it’s about recruitment and retention or just paying teachers a good wage, it’s time. We have the ability in Breckenridge to make this change right now, because of all the changes that are happening. I think we just need to seize this opportunity, and hopefully other communities will follow.”

Both Dineen and Shackleford said that child care centers in town are a pillar in the workforce. If a child care center were to close for a day, effects would ripple as parents would have to stay at home from their own jobs to care for their young children. 

“Some industries have to reduce days because of staffing. They close their restaurant on a Wednesday or whatever,” Dineen said. “Child care is such a linchpin in our operations as a community. Think about it if a child care center had to close one day. I mean, I don’t know if I’d be here (at work). I would be taking care of my kids, and that’s true for a lot of the workforce in our community.”

Parents and guardians can find out more about the tuition assistance program at The application closes July 1.

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