City of Aspen strikes out in finding new child care operators
No bids came in the first round of request for proposals for early childhood education in three classrooms at the Yellow Brick
As two child care providers begin to wrap up their operations at the city of Aspen-owned Yellow Brick building after negotiations broke down with city officials earlier this year, the municipal government has so far not been able to find replacement operators.
The city and its taxpayer subsidized child care program, Kids First, last month put out a request for proposals from licensed child care providers interested in operating three classrooms at the Yellow Brick.
No bids came in by the deadline, which was Monday, according to Assistant City Manager Diane Foster. She said the primary issue is that child care providers are having difficulty hiring enough early-childhood educators.
“While this is a known problem throughout the valley for many years, the problem is much worse than in years past,” Foster said via email.
She said she plans republish the RFP next week on the city’s website, resend it to local providers and post it on BidNet, a national bidding platform for governments.
The city is looking to fill the gap that will be left behind after the departing of Kadi Kuhlenberg, director and operator of Aspen Playgroup, which serves children 18 months to kindergarten, closes June 3.
Additionally, Dawn Ryan, owner and director of Aspen Mountain Tots, announced last month that she will close one of her classrooms that serves toddlers effective Sept. 1.
Neither of the longtime child care providers could meet the city’s new lease terms, mandating that they operate five days a week rather than their current four days a week.
They said the new leases are untenable because going to five days a week will negatively affect the quality of their child care programs and create staff burnout, and it’s not financially feasible as more teachers will be need to be hired.
“While I will continue to serve the community at the required 60 preschool slots, I will not be increasing capacity as the city envisioned,” Ryan wrote in a March letter to the city and Kids First officials. “I have pre-enrolled the 2023 school year, and I will not enroll a new child from the community until 2024. I will be weaning my enrollment over the next four years at which time I plan to close my doors permanently.
“No doubt we have a need for child care,” Ryan’s letter continues. “But the city has chosen to lay that burden solely on the private tenants of city-owned buildings, without fully understanding the impacts on those individual small businesses and without offering a support system that allows their requests to be easily met.”
The Kids First Advisory Board voted last year to change the lease terms to five days a week to increase the city’s capacity of child care offerings, which is a priority of Aspen City Council.
City officials were confident earlier this year that they’d find new providers, given the subsidies the government offers to its tenants at the Yellow Brick.
Ryan said she has not heard from city officials since she sent the letter informing them that she will not sign a lease in September of 2022 for the second classroom that serves toddlers.
“It’s disappointing that they didn’t acknowledge that I wrote an email,” she said. “It feels pretty disrespectful.”
Kuhlenberg said all but a few of her families have found other child care providers, and wonders what kind of capacity the city is looking to fill if kids in Aspen Playgroup were so easily placed.
“It completely undermines why (the city) is doing this,” she said. “This was unnecessary because clearly there is physical capacity.”