Wrestling with early education
EAGLE COUNTY – Eagle County Commissioners are considering spending $1.6 million out of the county budget to fund early childhood programs programs that would have been funded through a ballot measure that failed last November. Summit County passed a measure in 2005 specifically to help build more childhood options for the county, and help retain good teachers through wage increases.Eagle County’s $1.6 million would be used to expand several existing health programs that help poor children, pay for training for new child-care employees and create four new positions in the county’s Health and Human Services Department. Mary Lou Keller, an attorney who works with families, was one of a few dozen who showed up for Tuesday’s meeting to urge the commissioners to set aside dollars for early childhood programs and services. Voters who turned down the early childhood tax increase in November wanted the county to pay for those programs out of the existing budget, Keller said. Keller warned of the cost of not intervening in a troubled child’s life early. Once a child enters the judicial system, it can be costly. Keller described a scene where any where between 10 and 20 paid professionals, ranging from therapists to attorneys, have to work on the case of one troubled child. “You don’t want to go there,” she said. Childcare shortageLeading the call for early childhood funding is Kate Forinash, director of Health and Human Services for the county. Forinash also is the co-chair of the Eagle County Early Childhood Council, a group of child-care employees, school district officials and health workers who studied the need for more early childhood services. She described 17 programs, services and positions that would meet some of the needs identified in the early childhood study. If all of the programs and positions are funded, it will cost about $1.6 million annually. The lion’s share of that money almost $1 million would address problems surrounding child-care, such as the lack of child care and the cost to families who need it. The oft-publicized child-care shortage is getting worse, said Cherie Paller, director of the Family Learning Center Foundation. The problem isn’t just that there aren’t enough child-care centers to go around; there aren’t enough child-care staffers to go around, either. Where would the money go? One of the programs proposed by the childhood council would create salary incentives to retain child-care employees. It’s modeled after a similar program in Pitkin County, where employees receive bonuses for longevity and additional training and education. The cost of that program would be $168,400 each year. The proposal also calls for a new employee would be responsible for helping new child-care centers, and in-home day care business, become licensed through the state. The cost of that position was estimated to be $47,678. The proposal also asks for money to expand prenatal care to low-income mothers, provide training and support for teenage parents and increase the number home visitations visits made to expectant parents to provide support and advice. About $32,450 in the proposal would pay for preventative dental care for children who have trouble getting into a dentist. Dr. Ron Zastrow, a local dentist who has treated children who don’t have dental insurance, said children with dental problems have trouble concentrating in school. “There’s pain out there,” he said. Finding the moneyChild care, its availability and the cost, has a big impact on the town of Vail’s ability to recruit and retain employees, said John Powers, the town’s human resources director. About 15 percent of the town’s workers use child care, he said. It’s also an issue for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said Diane Johnson, community relations director for the district. That’s why the district buys spots for its employees at the Miller Ranch Child Care Center, which the county paid for and built three years ago. Commissioner Peter Runyon said businesses should play a part in the solution. He also suggested that the council talk to other public entities, like the town of Vail, about setting aside dollars for early childhood services. Overall, Runyon expressed support for efforts to fund early childhood services, noting his disagreement with comments that it’s not the responsibility for government to help out local parents and kids. “I’m sorry, if that’s the case then only the very wealthy can have children in this county,” he said. The county’s annual audit of the 2006 budget will be finished later this month. Menconi suggested the commissioners use an expected surplus to fund early childhood services this year. Runyon, however, said the county should consider funding early childhood services when considering the overall county budget. The 2007 budget was approved last fall. That way, early childhood programs will have money budgeted every year, he said. Menconi said he hopes the board can determine if it can fund early childhood services by the end of this month. $1.6 million questionThe Eagle County Early Childhood Council is asking the County Commissioners to pay $1.6 million in 2007 for early childhood programs. According to the proposal, this is where the $1.6 million would go: $971,560: Child care and training for child-care employees Impact: would affect 1,567 children at a cost of $670 per child$153,950: Health and safety programs for children Impact: would affect 1,070 children at a cost of $143 per child$290,330: Family support services and programs Impact: would help 1,140 families at a cost of $255/family$141,000: Social and emotional development for disabled, low-income and troubled children Impact: would affect 575 children at a cost of $245 per child$87,000: Coordinator to manage early childhood programs funded by the countyTotal: $1,643,840
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