Longtime child care director for city of Aspen retires

Shirley Ritter, director of taxpayer-based Kids First program, will will leave tenured post Dec. 31

Staff report

Shirley Ritter, director of the city of Aspen’s Kids First program, is retiring on Dec. 31 after working for local government for 25 years.

Ritter’s tenure has been spent at the helm of Kids First, a department of the city that serves as an early childhood resource center that supports affordable child care choices in Pitkin County and Aspen.

Generating just under $2 million a year in sales tax revenue, most of the money is spent on financial aid for families, tuition buydowns and other subsidies, as well as support for the program like quality improvement efforts and resource teachers.

“I feel so fortunate to have been able to serve my community and provide assistance to hundreds of young children and families through Kids First services,” Ritter said in a press release. “I really admire and respect the residents of Aspen who have voted more than once to support our city’s youngest members and the various City Councils who have put sincere and concerted focus on the future of our children and creating priorities and policies that support working families.”

City voters in 1989 passed a 0.45% sales tax, of which 55% goes to the Kids First program and the remaining amount toward affordable housing.

The tax was renewed by voters in 2008 and runs through 2040.

“I’m extremely proud that as a local government we have been able to use our dedicated tax in a way that has been and continues to be responsive to community needs,” Ritter said. “When the tax was renewed more than 20 years ago, the first thing we did was create a financial aid system that increased parents’ ability to use child care if they were above the poverty threshold. Before that there wasn’t an intentional effort to support families.”

Kids First funds an average of 40 families at a time with financial aid.

Other programs that have been initiated over the course of Ritter’s service include a nurse consultant that allows child care providers to offer vision, hearing and dental screenings annually, as well as an on-call substitute teacher who works for Kids First but is available to programs when a staff member is out of the classroom.

City councils have continuously supported the work of Kids First with specific goals, such as the current council goal to increase child care capacity to support families, the local workforce and the health of economy in Aspen and the region.

“The community and all its families have benefited from Ritter’s time leading Kids First,” said Aspen City Manager Sara Ott in the press release. “The improvements in the quality, access and diversity of child care options were facilitated in part by Ritter’s enthusiasm and dedication.

“We are grateful she worked with us for so long and for Council’s continued support of Ritter and the Kids First department.”

In addition to focusing on families, Kids First and Ritter have also created reward, incentive and internship programs that are designed to empower and assist teachers.

“This department is really about the team and working together,” Ritter said in the release. “We’ve had some really long-term staff and the level of commitment and passion they exhibit is a significant part of this community’s recognition of the significance of early childhood education.”

A national search for a new director will begin immediately.


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