‘Fingers crossed’: Child care remains a crisis in Routt County

Melinda Maas, executive director of Heritage Park Preschool west of Steamboat Springs, gives instructions to parents lined up for registration at the early childhood education center at 7 a.m. Thursday, April 14. Seventeen families came forward hoping to have their child in one of the available school places.
Dylan Anderson / Steamboat Pilot and Today

Last Wednesday, April 13, Jason Breakstone slept in the Heritage Park Preschool parking lot.

Breakstone lives in Broomfield, but her family is moving to Steamboat Springs this summer. The timing is right for the 11-year-old from Breakstone to start sixth grade in the fall, which Breakstone hopes will ease the transition. But he and his wife are less sure about the couple’s 3-year-old child.

It was hard to find a full-time preschool on the Front Range, and they heard it was even worse on the West Rim.

After calling several daycare centers in town, Breakstone’s wife learned there was a first-come, first-served opportunity at Heritage Park.

Determined to be first in line, Breakstone showed up for school at 8 p.m. Wednesday – 11 hours before registration at the center began. He traded sitting in a camp chair by the school gate and in his vehicle, where he had a small sleeping pad. The police visited him at night.

At 7 a.m. on Thursday, April 14, Breakstone was on the front line, but there were no vacancies. Instead, he had to put his name on a waiting list.

Bloomfield resident Jason Breakstone, who is moving to Steamboat this summer, drove up and spent the night of Wednesday, April 13 in the Heritage Park Preschool parking lot hoping to get his name first on the waiting list of the school, as they currently do not plan any preschool. openings.
Dylan Anderson / Steamboat Pilot and Today

Breakstone was one of 17 families who showed up at Heritage Park early Thursday.

The school only has five summer places available and 10 for the fall – all for toddlers between 12 and 36 months.

Unless something changes with current families, Heritage Park has no place for Breakstone’s child.

“We were hoping there would be a spot, but it looks like one of the existing families ended up taking it,” Breakstone said. “Crossed fingers.”

Last August, a day care center closed in South Routt County and the lack of preschool education reached a critical level. Routt County Commissioners held a summit on the issue and the forum was well attended.

The county and the city have partnered to explore the possibility of building a daycare center.

Additionally, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. announced in October that the company would build its own staff center. Then a new center, Totally Tots, opened in Hayden in January. The Steamboat Springs School District also plans to expand preschool spaces this fall.

Before the end of the session, the Colorado General Assembly is expected to create a new Department of Early Childhood, elevating the issue to the cabinet level of the state government.

Despite all of this, access to child care services in Routt County remains a crisis.

“(The centers) still need staff – quite a bit,” said Angela Pleshe, program manager for First Impressions of Routt County, the local early years council. “That was the problem in the fall and summer of last year and it continues to be a problem.”

Melinda Maas, executive director of Heritage Park Preschool, sits with children as they eat a snack last fall. The center is converting a preschool room into a toddler room this fall, hoping to better meet local needs, which are particularly limited for infants and toddlers.
Shelby Reardon / Steamboat Pilot and Today

At the Discovery Learning Center, another person lined up the day before registration last week, but general manager Colleen Miller said she would not welcome new children until the center could add other teachers.

Young Tracks executive director Kim Martin said they were so understaffed that hiring four more people would only open up room for four more students.

Pleshe said it is still too early to see the fruits of the various efforts to ease the situation, and that more work is underway. On Thursday, she applied for a grant to help local centers better advertise their vacancies.

But leaders at several local centers say the core of the problem is a lack of respect for early childhood education as a viable career path in general, which has left them with few responses to their offers of employment. job.

“We’re ready to hire someone who has a passion for early childhood education and wants to learn more and grow within an organization,” Miller said. “We just don’t find that level of interest.”

Heritage Park Preschool chief executive Melinda Maas said early childhood education needs to better attract people entering the workforce to ensure they can recruit the people who are passionate about it.
Shelby Reardon / Steamboat Pilot and Today

Pay is tough, but at Miller’s Discovery Learning Center, teachers are paid around $50,000 a year with full benefits. However, the director has only received about fifteen applications over the past year and a half.

Miller said she’s trying to balance keeping the cost reasonable for families — who in Routt County pay an average of $16,000 a year per child — while paying teachers a living wage. For some, the increase in wages has not helped them retain their staff.

“We made some pretty substantial increases last year, and I still lost people,” Martin said. “And I lost people to other industries. They don’t even stay on the field.

Martin said the industry needs to find ways to better attract those entering the workforce, so that a job in early childhood education looks just as attractive as a teacher.

“We just need more early years funding,” said Melinda Maas, executive director of Heritage Park Preschool. “It’s really hard work…but if you have a passion for it, you should be here.”

Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton said she thinks companies’ efforts to expand access are likely to yield the fastest results. Steamboat Resort hopes to open its center by the end of the year with room for about 35 children.

By definition, all or part of Routt County is considered a child care wilderness and was before the pandemic began. Then there are personnel issues as well, Melton said.

“Let’s say we could figure out a way to pay people $50 an hour to have their kids looked after, would we be able to bring in enough staff? Melton asked, adding that she didn’t know the answer.


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