Aspen schools to offer infant, toddler care
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” The Aspen School District plans to provide infant and toddler care at its preschool facility near the Aspen Elementary School beginning in January.
The decision should provide some relief to the infant and toddler child care situation in Aspen, which is marked by extremely long waiting lists.
Currently, 53 infants are in line for care at the Early Learning Center in Aspen’s Yellow Brick Building; Roaring Fork Kids, also at the Yellow Brick, has a similarly long list. The wait list for toddlers at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Snowmass Village has roughly 37 children on it.
The preschool expansion also will provide an additional benefit for Aspen School District staff members, who will have priority for the 12 spaces (four for infants and eight for toddlers).
The idea came about, in part, because the district owns a modular unit for which it presently has no use, according to district Superintendent Diana Sirko. The trailer was purchased three years ago to provide additional classrooms for the Aspen Middle School, before the new middle school was built. During construction, the modular unit was used as a construction trailer.
Now it will be moved near the existing preschool, to allow the district to provide infant and toddler care.
“It’s a chance for us to utilize a resource we have for the benefit of our staff and the community,” explained Sirko. “It’s just a need that we hear constantly from staff ” how difficult it is to find high-quality day care.”
She hopes on-campus child care will help the district continue to attract and retain high-quality staff. Currently, some staff members have to leave their children downvalley all day, making it hard for new mothers to feed their infants, and generally extending the length of time that parents and children are separated.
The Aspen School District received a $17,300 grant from the Aspen Community Foundation, $5,872 from Qualistar Early Learning and $25,000 from the Boettcher Foundation toward the work that will be needed on the modular unit. They’ve also applied for a $20,000 grant from Kids First for new classroom equipment.
Sirko said the cost of expanding the preschool still is being evaluated, but she doesn’t think the district will have to contribute anything beyond the modular unit and the land. If it does, the money will be paid out of its land-dedication fees, paid by developers in lieu of giving land to the district.
Once open, the cost of care at the preschool extension will be competitive with other infant and toddler programs, according to Betsy Ann Anastas, assistant principal of Aspen Elementary School and administrator of the Colorado Preschool Program. She added that Aspen-based programs charged between $56 a day and $59 a day for infant care last year.
However, the average cost to a day care center to provide infant care in Aspen is upward of $90 a day, per infant, she added.
That financial situation underscores why there is such a dearth of infant and toddler care in Aspen, according to child care providers.
“It’s just too expensive for people to start up more child cares,” said Season Doebler, director of the Little Red Schoolhouse. She pointed out that, although organizations such as Kids First have helped bridge the gap between the cost of child care and what parents can afford, infant and toddler child care centers are never profitable.
For one, child care centers that provide infant and toddler care are required by law to be well-staffed.
For example, the new child care center at the Aspen School District preschool is required to have a 1-to-3 staff-to-student ratio for infants, according to Anastas. For toddlers, it must provide a 1-to-5 staff-to-student ratio.
Doebler also notes that Aspen rents are so high that they could never be paid by child-care centers, so providers who want to expand from home-based care simply can’t do so.
A great deal of work still must be done to ensure the new center meets strict state standards for infant and toddler care, according to Anastas. The district is in the process of putting out a request for proposals for the relocation and remodeling of the trailer.
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This summer in Aspen is likely to include indoor and outdoor concerts, maskless gatherings and no state or county-mandated restrictions on social distancing at restaurants or anywhere else.