City of Aspen is homing in on a new child care provider
Taxpayer-funded Kids First program making progress on Aspen City Council two-year goal
The city of Aspen is in negotiations with a locally-based child care provider to fill empty classrooms at the municipally-owned Yellow Brick building that was vacated earlier this month by a longtime provider after the two sides couldn’t agree on terms of the operation.
Kids First, which is the city department that manages roughly $2 million in annual sales tax revenue to provide affordable child care, has been charged with adding more capacity for working families.
Aspen City Council last year made child care a priority, recognizing that not having access to it affects the local economy because it prevents parents from being part of the workforce.
Kids First Director Shirley Ritter said the city and the citizen-led Kids First Advisory Board are close to signing a lease with a new provider and are waiting on some final documentation they’ve asked for.
She said she wasn’t at liberty to identify the bidder as the city continues to negotiate.
“This is priority No. 1,” Ritter said. “I think it’s a pretty short turnaround.”
The intent is to have four classrooms occupied by the new provider by the fall.
Aspen Playgroup, which served over 40 children and was owned by Kadi Kuhlenberg, closed its doors June 3 after reaching an impasse with the city on new lease terms, which were to require operation five days a week rather the four Playgroup was open.
Ritter updated council during a Monday work session on the Yellow Brick provider, as well as what her department is working on to increase capacity, which includes planning and designing a new $12.5 million childcare building at Burlingame Ranch, a city-developed subdivision across from Buttermilk Mountain.
Kids First also is working on the recruitment and retention of early childhood workers, which there is a dearth of in the valley and nationally.
Kids First has implemented a new incentive program to provide stronger support for child care staff recruitment and retention, which includes individual incentives paid to staff based on their length of employment, education, credential level and other quality indicators.
And the Kids First Advisory Board has approved funding for staff professional development for all licensed programs.
Ritter said the renovations of an infant room that can accommodate eight babies is nearly complete at Colorado Mountain College.
She said she continues to hold conversations with qualified people to operate that program and the room should be open soon.
“It’ progress,” Ritter said prior to the council meeting.
Kids First staff has begun discussions with regional partners to look more closely at child care needs.
Partner organizations that have committed include Aspen Community Foundation, Pitkin County, Early Childhood Network, Manaus and the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Council.
Kids First staff is participating in the Confluence Early Childhood Education Coalition, formerly known as Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition, which the group that is working regionally to establish a taxing district to support early childhood education from Aspen to Parachute.