City comes to Wildwood’s aid |

City comes to Wildwood’s aid

Tim Mutrie

The Aspen City Council wasted little time last night in unanimously approving a $45,000 line of credit for the Wildwood School, which is presently under-enrolled and suffering a budget crisis due to recent capital improvement expenditures.

The $45,000 in credit – to come from the city’s day-care tax fund – will keep the 26-year-old preschool located east of town operational while it implements a three-year business plan to boost enrollment and regain its financial footing.

Council members voted unanimously in favor of the appropriation, and were sympathetic to the school’s situation.

“The bottom line is that day-care centers don’t make money,” said Mayor Rachel Richards. “And we as a community have far too much invested in the Wildwood School to let it go.”

Richards also praised Wildwood’s extensive business plan, citing it as proof that the school is committed to remedying its financial situation.

Councilman Tom McCabe, however, noted that the school should re-examine its price structure and long-term financial planning, “so when emergencies come up in the future, it won’t create a panic.”

Brent Reed, a local accountant representing Wildwood with Reese Henry and Co., explained to council prior to its decision that the school was in financial “crisis.”

“At the end of this year, if the organization does not get help, it may cease to exist,” Reed said.

Virginia Newton, director of the Kids First Advisory Board, a group that advises the council on child-care issues and the appropriation of day-care tax funds, said a combination of capital expenditures and low enrollment led to Wildwood’s budget crisis. Newton and Kids First supported Wildwood’s request.

“Wildwood was full for years and had a waiting list and even built up an endowment for scholarships,” Newton said in an interview earlier. “But two-and-a-half years ago, they needed major repairs for their building, basically for the roof and electrical systems.

“And at the very same time this is going on,” Newton continued, “there was a general dip in preschool enrollment in the upper valley, not just at Wildwood, but everywhere. And top of that, Wildwood closed three months this past summer – usually a big enrollment time – to do the capital improvements, and then their enrollment dipped.”

Typically, day-care tax funds are available for day-care centers that provide services for infants and toddlers up to age 3. However, the Wildwood School, which caters to children ages 2 1/2 through 5, felt deserving of funds because the general purpose of the tax is “to create day-care opportunities in Aspen and Pitkin County.”

And the City Council has made exceptions to that rule before. In 1998, the council approved $71,612 to Little Feet Daycare to offset its operational expenses, and in 1999, the council approved $23,000 to the Wildwood School for its operating budget.

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