Despite New Facility Coming Online, Parents Preschool Population Underserved
TELLURIDE – “The current economics of the world basically requires that two parents be in the workforce, especially here in Telluride. That’s why it’s so important for a town like Telluride to have quality preschools. And the preschools here are amazing,” says Cathy James, the executive director of Bright Futures for Early Childhood and Families.
James, a mother, grandmother, retired kindergarten teacher and voice for this regional nonprofit, knows well the importance of quality early childhood education programs for children under the age of 5. Not only do individual families benefit from the opportunity to return to the workforce thanks to quality, affordable childcare, children themselves benefit as well, as kids who attend preschool are more likely to succeed in various arenas later in life.
This week, Telluride’s repute as a leader in early childhood education was underscored by the opening of a new, town- and county-funded preschool facility, located in the Gold Run affordable housing development on Telluride’s east end.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment, not only that the town and county came together to create an affordable housing community, but that they also created a dedicated child-care facility that will serve our community long into the future,” San Miguel County Commissioner Elaine Fischer said this week, as Telluride Preschool at Gold Run officially opened for business in the bright, colorful, 1,100-square foot building located on the westernmost lot of the Gold Run Subdivision.
Completion of the Gold Run Early Education/Childcare Facility represents the final phase of the joint Town/County Gold Run Affordable Housing Project. Construction was funded through subsidies and loans from the Town and County, with grant funding obtained by Bright Futures from a number of charitable organizations. This week’s opening represents the culmination of a synergistic collaboration between different government and nonprofit entities partnering to help create solutions to Telluride’s childcare dilemma by creating this “forever” childcare facility. Telluride Preschool, an existing education program for children ages 2 ½ to 5 years old, was selected through a Request for Qualifications process as the operator of the facility.
Stephanie Baye is the director of Telluride Preschool, which has for the past 17 years utilized a facility in the Shandoka housing development. Moving to the new building represents a fresh start for the program, which provides care for 21 preschoolers a day.
“We are really excited and appreciative of everyone that helped make this happen,” Baye said this week, as her troupe of tykes joyfully explored their new digs, including nearly 1,600 square feet of developed yard spaces and decks and a full basement for storage, all designed to meet the Town of Telluride’s Energy Efficient and Environmentally Responsible Building Code.
Allison Construction teamed with Lipkin Warner Design and Planning to construct the building, which was completed in late November. The facility is owned by a nonprofit corporation formed by the Town and County.
The opening of the Gold Run facility will also open the door for another local child-care program to move into a dedicated child-care facility, as Toddler Town will move to the Shandoka building in January.
“The new facility helps us to continue to offer what we’re offering, but at much more affordable rental costs,” says Kathy Regan, Toddler Town’s director. Toddler Town has been operating out of a building in downtown Telluride that has been for sale, and its move to the Shandoka facility represents a significant step in making the program sustainable long-term, Regan says. “We’ve been living in this limbo, with the building for sale, so to now have a permanent home at an affordable rate is wonderful,” she says.
The prevalence of quality daycare programs in the Telluride area represents more than merely an opportunity for parents to successfully make a living here: As studies have shown, early childhood education (for children below the age of 5) yields significant long-term benefits – not just for the children themselves, but also for the greater national community as well.
The well-known HighScope Perry Preschool Study found that individuals who were enrolled in a quality preschool program ultimately earned up to $2,000 more per month than those who were not. Young people who were in preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, to own homes and have longer marriages.
Other studies like The Abecedarian Project show similar results. Children in quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education or get into future trouble with the law.
Early childhood education makes good economic sense as well; experts peg its return on investment at 12 percent, after inflation.
“As more and more research comes out, more money is being set aside by states and the federal government [for early childhood education,]” Bright Futures’ James says. “Kids have to be ready for kindergarten, because as we’re finding, you can’t teach kids to read in third grade and expect them to pass CSAP tests – you have to start teaching them in preschool.”
Telluride boasts plenty of preschools, but infant care still an issue
The local childcare dilemma, which a few years ago led to 200-name waitlists, seems to have been alleviated in recent years, with a floundering economy causing more families to move away and perhaps discouraging couples from expanding their families.
But that downward trend in births seems to be changing, as empirical evidence suggests more babies are being born to local couples now than a few years ago.
An uptick in birthrates underscores the concern that the childcare dilemma has not been entirely addressed by the emergence of dedicated facilities prompted by the construction of the Gold Run building. Infant care, for babies under the age of 1, is still lacking in the community, and may become more of an issue in the near future, as the total available spots for infants could be reduced when Toddler Town moves to its new location in January.
Toddler Town Director Regan says she is not yet “100 percent sure” that the program will discontinue its infant program, but admits that it is a very real possibility. As those in the business of childcare know all too well, the cost of providing infant care, which requires caregiver-to-child ratios of three-to-one, is prohibitive. Telluride Sitters, which was located in the Peaks Hotel and was the other area facility that offered childcare for babies, went out of business this fall.
If Toddler Town does in fact shift to a toddler-only program, serving 1-to-3 year olds exclusively, Mountain Village’s Mountain Munchkins will become the only childcare facility in the area to provide infant care.
Mountain Munchkins offers six spots for babies under the age of 1 year; and that, according to its Director Kathleen Merritt, isn’t nearly enough.
“There are lots of parents who don’t have the option of staying home that first year, and I don’t want to be in the position where we’re turning people away,” she says.
Mountain Munchkins receives subsidies from the town of Mountain Village to run its childcare program, to the tune of more than $130,000 each year. Much of the need for the subsidy is directly related to the inherently high cost of operating an infant and toddler program, Merritt explains.
Mountain Munchkins is the largest childcare program in the area, serving 62 families in its infant, toddler, and preschool programs. Of the families with children enrolled at Mountain Munchkins, 25 percent neither live nor work in Mountain Village. With Mountain Village feeling the crunch of a deflating real estate market brought on by the past years’ economic downturn, Mountain Village’s budget committee is looking seriously at all town expenditures – especially those that do not directly impact its residents or employees.
The issue was raised at an intergovernmental meeting on December 3, where Mountain Village councilor and soon-to-be-appointed Mayor Dan Jansen expressed the Town’s conundrum. “Mountain Village leadership is working hard to ensure that its residents and employees have infant care support, but we can't speak to how other communities will address the need for infant care,” he said.
A solution to the local infant care dilemma, according to both James and Merritt, could be found in creating a dedicated revenue source for early childhood education. Ballot question 1A, or the San Miguel County’s Early Childhood Education Ballot Initiative, would have created funding for early childhood education through a mill levy increase of .75 (or around a $30-per-year tax hike for a resident with a home valued at $500,000.) Yet the measure failed to pass when it went to voters in 2008.
Similar funding frameworks are however successfully utilized by other ski resort communities in Colorado, and could provide an answer to Telluride’s growing infant care impasse, Merritt says.
“We want to attract and keep families here – because that’s what makes a community,” she says. “But what do those moms and dads do in that first year if they can’t get into Munchkins? We want to be able to provide options for parents who need to go back to work – so that they can go back to work, and feel good about where they’re dropping off their kids.”