Frisco Town Council approves child care tuition assistance |

Frisco Town Council approves child care tuition assistance

Council declines to move forward on helping increase preschool teachers’ salaries

Summit County Preschool is pictured Aug. 28, 2018, along Main Street in Frisco. The town of Frisco is working to implement a child care tuition assistance program to make preschool more affordable for local families.
Hugh Carey/Summit Daily News archive

The Frisco Town Council revisited the child care tuition assistance conversation from November at a work session Tuesday, Jan. 11, supporting the idea to provide scholarships for families. It would be modeled after the town of Breckenridge’s program and assist families that earn between 73% and 150% of area median income.

Council has dedicated $250,000 in the 2022 budget for child care, of which $65,000 is for Summit County Preschool, leaving a balance of $185,000 for the tuition assistance and grants, like the $50,000 in grant funding for licensed in-home child care providers starting or expanding operations.

There was some debate on whether the tuition assistance program should be limited to families living and working in Frisco or the greater Tenmile Basin as a whole. Frisco Town Manager Tony O’Rourke mentioned that the towns of Dillon, Silverthorne and Breckenridge are exploring a countywide tuition assistance program with Summit County, and that some council members expressed concern about preemptively supporting families outside of town.

“I want to take care of those in Frisco and the businesses in Frisco,” council member Andrew Aerenson said. “Those that are outside our boundaries are taken care of by the county by jurisdictional boundaries.”

Others disagreed, saying that residents of Bill’s Ranch and Copper Mountain are a part of the Frisco community and economy.

“Ultimately, if we’re trying to go to a countywide system, I think we should embrace the Tenmile Basin because it just demonstrates that we’re one community,” council member Melissa Sherburne said. “I also empathize with families that I know may live in Bill’s Ranch, they may live at Copper, and they live there because there are no other options. That’s where they landed, but they’re still part of this community.”

The Town Council ultimately agreed to have the program support the estimated 50 families or so in the basin for $349,452. Breckenridge will administer the tuition assistance program for $250 per scholarship.

It was noted that if there is a countywide child care assistance program, Early Childhood Options would likely lead the effort. The Town Council approved having Finance Director Leslie Edwards as Frisco’s representative on Early Childhood Options’ board. Edwards has experience with Breckenridge’s program and she was the treasurer of Little Red Schoolhouse.

Frisco also has $573,000 available from the nicotine tax to fund child care initiatives, and the council will use it for some of the tuition assistance program. The Town Council may dedicate about $300,000 a year from the tax for future child care programs.

However, like in November, the Town Council did not support raising preschool teachers’ salaries with the nicotine money at this time. Some council members said it was up to the school to raise salaries and that the town lobbying on the teachers’ behalf is a better route. Council member Dan Fallon disagreed with the decision.

“Scholarships are great, but it’s not going to change the underlying issue of capacity, which is driven by compensation,” Fallon said. “If we don’t fix that right away, immediately, with a cash infusion and allow tuitions to catch up, this is how we bridge that gap. … We’re falling short if we don’t fund.”

Public comment usually isn’t given during work sessions, but council made an exception for Jennifer McAtamney, chair of Early Childhood Options, and Candice De, chair of Summit County Preschool. De said Summit County Preschool is not operating at capacity because it can’t hire enough teachers.

“Obviously, that’s an issue across the county, but it’s really hard, especially at Summit County Preschool, when we’re competing with Breckenridge when they pay $3 higher,” De said.

McAtamney explained that helping improve salaries can help stop the facilities from hemorrhaging jobs.

“It is another piece that creates sustainability for your overall early childhood system, to have it be well-staffed and know that those schools can pay those teachers an appropriate wage for the work that they’re conducting,” McAtamney said.

Council, however, said the issue would be revisited later.

“We won’t let it go away,” Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortensen said. “It is important to all of us. … It’s just not where we want to put our funding from the nicotine tax at this time.”

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