Child-care crisis looms for county leaders
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County has come a long way from the days of the ski bum.
Condominiums originally intended for weekend skiers and ski bums are now the year-round homes of working families. The county’s elementary schools are bursting at the seams. And the child-care crisis continues.
In Breckenridge, the Carriage House waiting list for 1- and 2-year-olds numbers about 100 children. Frisco’s Summit County Preschool has 92 children on its list – about one-third of them infants and the others toddlers. Toddlers are also on a waiting list at Breckenridge’s Little Red Schoolhouse, which does not offer infant care.
“I’ve actually talked to people who said, “I had to move because I could not find child care’,” said Pam Garvin, program coordinator at Summit County Preschool.
That’s precisely what members of the Summit Leadership Forum don’t want to hear. The forum, which consists of county mayors, managers and ski area representatives, talks about child care at most of its monthly meetings. Last week, Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula said it’s time to stop giving the problem lip service.
“The plan simply keeps telling us we’ve got a problem,” he said, referring to a child-care strategic plan created in 2001. “We know that. Now, what do we do? I think we have to get to a point where we start acting. (Water Commissioner) Scott (Hummer) can’t do anything about snowfall, but we can do something about child care. The question is, when do the bricks and mortar come in?”
Mamula asked county officials to “start formulating some plan of action,” and assistant county manager Sue Boyd has since taken on the task of updating the strategic plan to report back on it during the forum’s December meeting. And while Mamula wants to take action, Boyd said that isn’t as easy as it may seem.
“Child care has got to be one of the most difficult issues to address that I can imagine,” she said. “The issue is even more difficult in Summit County because of the economics of a resort community. The same issues that are difficult anywhere are even harder here.”
Construction costs and property values are just part of the equation. Adequately staffing a center and making the care affordable is another High Country problem.
“The stars are all misaligned on this one,” Mamula said. “When it comes to Summit County, the cost of child care is high, incomes are low and everybody is a two-person working family.”
A Head Start program, one of the needs identified in the child-care strategic plan, is slated to get under way in Summit County in January. The program, designed for children ages 3 to 5 from low-income families, likely will be at the Dillon Valley and Summit Cove elementary schools. In addition, Summit County Schools offers day camps to school children during summer, holiday breaks and on snow days.
But that still doesn’t address what child-care providers say is the age range creating the greatest demand.
“The issues are the younger children,” said Wes Smith, superintendent of Summit County schools. “The younger the child, the greater the problem.”
Boyd said that is, in part, because care standards for infants are toddlers are far more stringent than for older children.
“Infant and toddler care is always in short supply because it’s very expensive to provide,” she said.
At the Carriage House, director Kathy Grotemeyer said parents should enroll their babies when they’re young, or forget about getting in for some time to come.
“You basically need to get into the Carriage House before your child is 10 months old, or you’re probably not going to get in until your child is 3.”
The only child-care center that has room to spare is Zoomers in Dillon. There, director Susan Wilt said the center has two openings for infants, five spots for 1-year-olds and about 20 vacancies in the 3- to 6-year-old rooms.
Wilt speculates the disparity between Dillon and other areas of the county exists simply because there are more child-care options on the north side of the county.
“We have a Montessori school down the street,” she said. “There are several home daycares in Summit Cove and Dillon Valley, and Summit Cove Elementary has a preschool.”
Grotemeyer also speculated that even though Breckenridge-area parents may know there are spaces at Zoomers, it’s just too far for them to go.
“If you live and work in Breckenridge, people just don’t want to drive to Silverthorne,” she said, adding that even that isn’t an option for other parents. “Some people don’t have cars.”
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