Regional Childcare Centers Feeling the Economic Crunch
by Martinique Davis
Aug 07, 2011 | 410 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TRI-COUNTY REGION – Despite economists’ assertions that the nation’s financial condition is on the mend, the recession that theoretically ended in 2010 is still sending reverberations around the country. In West Montrose, San Miguel and Ouray counties, those reverberations haven’t skipped over the childcare industry.

Local childcare centers appear to be feeling late-breaking ripple effects from the country’s economic downturn, with two regional childcare centers closing their doors this summer and others seeing dramatic drops in enrollment.

According to Cathy James, Executive Director of Bright Futures for Children (a regional non-profit organization supporting childcare and education initiatives for children under the age of 5), the recent closures of childcare centers in Nucla and Ridgway, and the trend of decreasing enrollment at childcare centers in Telluride, were all triggered by different circumstances but can be linked back to the still-shaky financial state of affairs in the region.

“Child care is a business, just like anything else,” James says, noting that local childcare businesses didn’t escape some of the negative effects of the recession. In the case of the closure of Mrs. Brandy’s Learning Center in Ridgway, high overhead (specifically $3,000 per month in rent) apparently forced that facility to close its doors this summer. In Nucla, Little Angels Learning Center couldn’t continue operating due to parents’ chronic inability to pay tuition.

“Daycare isn’t any different than any other business, and the business model they’ve had to follow in recent years has been to either hang on and wait for better years, or get out of town,” James says.

But unlike many other businesses, when a childcare center closes its doors the effects can be felt community-wide.

Mary Alice Wagner is a Parents as Teachers Educator for Bright Futures and says that the current lack of daycare in Ridgway caused by the closure of Mrs. Brandy’s will effect as many as 50 families there.

Ridgway resident Michael Lane found out only early last week that Mrs. Brandy’s would be closing that Friday, after which he and wife Leanne were left scrambling to find care for their 5-year-old son Lucas. Ultimately, Lane has had to alter his work schedule, including bringing his son to work with him, to make up for the lost days of childcare.

“For most people this has been a huge stress,” Lane says of other parents whose children were enrolled in Mrs. Brandy’s program. “They’re in a real bind. We are fortunate in that my boss will let me take [Lucas] to work with me, and that he’ll be starting kindergarten next month.”

“The Ridgway crisis is a big one,” she says, noting however that a few individuals in Ridgway have expressed an interest in becoming certified as daycare providers to help fill the gap. Licensure takes 60 days, however, James points out.

“We’re trying to remedy the situation,” says James, who will attend the Board of County Commissioners meeting next week to begin the discussion about locating a permanent daycare facility in Ridgway, “but there’s nothing that can happen in the next 60 days.”

Which is likely to leave some parents out in the cold, with no interim childcare for their children.

The situation is starkly different in Telluride, James says, where a number of childcare centers aren’t operating at capacity – and it’s not because those facilities don’t have excellent programs, she is quick to point out. Again, the situation stems from financial duress on the part of many families there.

As James reports, there are more than 80 children entering kindergarten this fall, all of whom were born just before the recession brought the nation’s economic engine to a screeching halt in 2007. The ensuing economic instability led to a reduction in couples having children in the following years, while some of those who did have children had to move elsewhere due to loss of employment, leading to fewer children entering childcare programs.

Of those families with small children who have been able to stay in Telluride, many have had to reduce the days their kids attend day care to make up for a reduction of hours in their employment. At Mountain Munchkins in Mountain Village, Director Kathleen Merritt reports that ten children have left the program since the spring, largely because of parents’ loss of employment and subsequent relocation, or inability to afford childcare. That has left their toddler program below capacity – a first for this community-funded program.

Merrit assumes the reduction in enrollment is an effect of the economic downturn, and that those effects are just now trickling down to the childcare industry. “It seems like families are trying to make it work with less childcare,” she says. And while the tables have certainly turned in recent years (not too long ago childcare centers had long waitlists), Merritt says she and other operators are trying to shift gears in response to the changing times. Mountain Munchkins has begun offering summer-only enrollment, as well as one-day-a-week enrollment, to respond to the evolving needs of local families.

For James, the only thing that is certain about the regional childcare picture is that it is constantly evolving, and despite the ebb and flow, the need for quality early childhood education never diminishes. There is, in fact, a new “baby boom” afoot, she says, with waitlists for infant programs growing by the day.

“Everyone just has to ride out the slow times and be ready for high times,” says James.
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