Council of Dillon supports childcare assistance program

Dillon City Council heard a presentation from local members of the childcare sector about a possible fund to support education programs for babies and toddlers.
Luke Vidic/Summit Daily News

Early childcare industry leaders in the county presented to Dillon City Council with hopes of launching a countywide early childhood education fund. The council voted unanimously.

Early Childhood Options Executive Director Lucinda Burns, Program Director Catherine Schaaf and Chair Jennifer McAtamney, in addition to Dillon Finance Director Carri McDonnel, gave the council their “first stab” at the countywide fund. The province currently funds childcare for 3- and 4-year-olds through the Strong Future SPK fund, a staff note said. Childcare executives suggested to council members hopes for a similar program funded by the cities for infants and toddlers up to age 3.

Conversations about labor housing may be intertwined with early childhood education, Burns said.

“Any argument you can make for affordable housing, that same argument can be applied to affordable, accessible and quality childcare,” she said.

“When it comes to babies and toddlers, we come up way short,” Burns said.

She reported that 600 children are on a nationwide waiting list† In February, Shaaf said it could take one to two years for a spot in one of the province’s nurseries to become available.

Dillon would contribute a percentage of the total cost, and other cities in the county would contribute proportionally, Burns said. She said city and county managers had different proportional models to work from and none had been chosen yet. She said her team hopes to submit a final proposal to the cities before the end of their budgeting process at the end of the summer.

There is no exact cost for the program, but in conversations with McDonnel and the city, Dillon determined that the money already allocated to the Lake Dillon Preschool and an excess of nicotine tax could bring in at least $125,000 for the program.

She estimated that the cost to the entire country would be around $1 million by 2023. She went on to say she had no figures to present to the council. The talk was more about broaching the conversation and answering early questions.

The need for the program stems from an inability for key workers to afford childcare. McAtamney described a common problem: people in their 20s move to the county for mountain life, climb the corporate ladder to important jobs in the county, but are forced to leave when trying to start a family because they can’t afford early childcare. .

Burns also said the program would address unequal childcare options across the county.

“We’re really seeing some inequality across the province. We’d like to close that gap,” Burns said. Breckenridge and Frisco have their own early childcare programs. The municipality of Frisco has set up a tuition fee program this spring for residents of Frisco and employees of Frisco companies† Breckenridge has provided childcare support for 15 years, Schaaf said, and put some of its burden on the county when the county began its $2.5 million program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

In addition, early childhood teachers would see a pay increase with the program. To have stable programs, teachers must earn a reasonable wage, Burns said. Burns hoped the program could lead to more “competitive” wages for teachers, although her team said that still doesn’t necessarily mean a “living” wage in Summit County.

The program could also lead to more teachers being hired, meaning more capacity for potential students, McDonnel said.

McAtamney said Summit County lost 1-to-4 families in 2007 due to a lack of affordable childcare.

The money would go to accredited daycare centers with approval from Colorado Shines, a statewide grading and approval system for early learning programs, the presenters said.

Councilors unanimously supported the program. They previously expressed support for a Breckenridge-esque program in Dillon.

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