City of Aspen turns to new child care provider

The taxpayer-funded Kids First program is making progress toward the Aspen City Council’s two-year goal.
File photo

The city of Aspen is in negotiations with a local child care provider to fill empty classrooms in the city-owned Yellow Brick building that was vacated earlier this month by a longtime provider. after the two parties could not agree on the terms of the operation. .

Kids First, which is the city department that manages about $2 million in annual sales tax revenue to provide affordable child care, has been tasked with adding more capacity for working families.

Last year, the Aspen City Council made childcare a priority, recognizing that not having access to it hurts the local economy as it keeps parents out of the workforce.

Kids First Director Shirley Ritter said the city and the citizen-led Kids First Advisory Board are about to sign a lease with a new vendor and are awaiting the final documentation they requested.

She said she was not free to identify the bidder as the city continues to negotiate.

“It’s the No. 1 priority,” Ritter said. “I think it’s a pretty short time frame.”

The intention is to have four classrooms occupied by the new supplier by the fall.

Aspen Playgroup, which served more than 40 children and was owned by Kadi Kuhlenberg, closed on June 3 after reaching an impasse with the city over new lease terms, which were to require operation five days a week rather than all four Playgroup were open.

Ritter updated the board during a working session on Monday on the yellow brick supplier, as well as what his department is working on to increase capacity, which includes planning and designing a new building of $12.5 million child care at Burlingame Ranch, a city-developed subdivision across from Buttermilk Mountain.

Kids First is also working on recruiting and retaining early childhood workers, which are lacking in the Valley and nationally.

Kids First has introduced a new incentive program to provide stronger support for the recruitment and retention of childcare staff, which includes individual incentives paid to staff based on their length of employment, their education, degree level and other quality indicators.

And the Kids First Advisory Board has approved staff professional development funding for all accredited programs.

Ritter said renovations to a nursery that can accommodate eight babies are nearing completion at Colorado Mountain College.

She said she continues to have conversations with qualified people to make this program work and the room should be open soon.

“It’s progressing,” Ritter said before the board meeting.

Kids First staff have begun discussions with regional partners to take a closer look at childcare needs.

Partner organizations that have signed on include the Aspen Community Foundation, Pitkin County, Early Childhood Network, Manaus, and the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Council.

Kids First staff participate in the Confluence Early Childhood Education Coalition, formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition, which is the group working regionally to establish a tax district to support early childhood education in Aspen to Parachute.


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