Early Childhood Options to spend $2.4 million to support wages for local child care staff

Team gathering data to present to county commissioners to determine details

Timberline Learning Center in Breckenridge is pictured on May 9, 2020. Day cares across the county are experiencing difficulties recruiting and retaining staff members, and local nonprofit Early Childhood Options is trying to help by spending its reserve fund supporting wages.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

The lack of child care in Summit County was already a burden on the workforce before the coronavirus. Now the issue has been exacerbated due to pandemic-related causes, and local leaders are working together to decide how a reserve fund can help mitigate critical issues.

Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, a nonprofit hub for connecting parents and children to child care, explained how the issue became so complex.

“The child care centers went through some pretty significant changes and impacts during the pandemic where they had to maybe change their hours, change their staffing patterns up and I think we … saw some transition in staff,” Burns said. “So particularly after the pandemic, the child care programs found themselves with a higher than usual turnover rate.”

Burns said local child care centers struggled to retain staff even before the pandemic. Now with the workforce housing crisis at play, attracting and retaining talent becomes even more of a challenge.

“Child care is well known for having high turnover because of lower wages compared to the school districts, teachers for example, wages are much lower,” Burns said. “Recruiting and retaining staff has always been a challenge. It became an increased challenge during the pandemic and particularly coming out of the pandemic.”

Representatives of Early Childhood Options, including Burns, met with the Summit Board of County Commissioners during a work session meeting on Tuesday, June 29, to discuss a reserve fund and how they could leverage these dollars to help with staffing issues.

Burns said in a text that there was currently $2.4 million in the fund, in addition to eight months of operating expenses.

Some of the strategies proposed by Burns and her team were to create a full-time position that would focus entirely on building a hiring pipeline to attract talent, increasing wages, identifying workforce housing opportunities for child care staff and addressing equity issues.

During the discussion, County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said that these funds could be used in what she called a “transformative” way, or it could be used to tackle smaller issues.

“I do think there’s a tension between deciding we’re going to be transformative, in which case we are all-in on wages and that’s all we are doing and everything else comes off the list, or we want to approach this from the perspective of we’re going to chip off a couple of smaller problems so that then we are positioned in whatever the next opportunity is,” Pogue said.

During the meeting, Burns said that she and her team had already decided that support for wages was their highest priority and that they would like to see this funding support this measure above all else. Burns and her team already conducted some research before the meeting and determined a benchmark starting salary of $21 an hour, which would cost about $3 million over the course of five years.

Burns noted that this was just an estimate, and all the commissioners voiced that they’d like to see more details, which will be reviewed at another work session meeting in mid-to-late August.

The commissioners also voiced other strategies they saw as high priority, such as the recruitment position and identifying workforce housing opportunities for staff.

Burns said she was pleased with the strategy identified and that the team at the Early Childhood Options still had work to do to nail down the details.

“(The money) will turn into wages,” Burns said in an interview a few days later. “I don’t know that it will necessarily turn into raises across the board. We’re still gathering some data to get our baseline data and set our new benchmarks. … We want to set new benchmarks where lead classroom teachers have an entry-level wage that’s really livable and manageable for professional working and living in Summit County.”

Over the past year, Burns said she and her team have recognized inefficiencies with the current child care system and noted she’d like to eventually overhaul the structure currently in place.

“I think the thing that we’ve learned over the years, but it became even more apparent during the pandemic, is that the structural issues around how child care community-based centers are funded make it very, very difficult to maintain competitive wages,” Burns said. “We want to be able to bring in some public support, some funding, to help really build a system that really is able to support increased wages over time that really commiserates with work duties and educational experience.”

Burns said child care traditionally operates on revenue that is provided by what parents can afford to pay, which is then used to determine wage rates. Instead, Burns wants to evaluate what it takes to run a high-quality child care center and then examine ways to fund that operation.

In the meantime, Burns and her team will continue to gather research, which will be presented to the board near the beginning of the school year.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.