Teachers seeking child care

A group of Steamboat Springs School District teachers are hoping to tackle scheduling conflicts and a shortage of infant and toddler care programs in the area by starting their own care center.

Last year, several high school teachers approached former Superintendent Cyndy Simms with an idea for a district-sponsored infant and toddler care center that would cater to district employees and operate exclusively during the school year. The request was to sponsor a program -- preferably in a facility owned by the district -- funded completely by tuition and independent of the district's budget.

The driving point behind the request was the scheduling conflicts created by the 10-month work schedule of teachers and the year-round commitment required by most child-care providers, teacher Lucianne Myhre said.

"We as teachers can't afford to be paying to hold a spot when our kids aren't there," she said.

Most, if not all, area child-care providers charge families enrollment fees year round. That structure creates a problem for teachers, who often don't work during the summer months and have several multi-day vacations throughout the school year.

"We need a facility that honors our schedule," Myhre said, adding that teachers want to be with their children during breaks, not paying for them to be in care centers.

Teachers and child-care specialists also say the proposed program could help battle the shortage of infant and toddler care programs in the area. Infants typically are defined as children up to 1 year old and toddlers as children up to 3 years old, said First Impressions of Routt County director Renee Donahue.

"From my professional standpoint, there's definitely a need for infant and toddler care in this community," said Tami Havener, executive director of Family Development Center, which operates Discovery Learning Center, Child Care Network and Newborn Network. "Usually parents have to be on waiting lists for some time."

Havener also is vice president of the Steamboat Springs School Board, which in June said it would support a teacher-initiated infant and toddler program as long as there was no cost to the district.

"We have to figure out a way to do it that's not going to cost the district any money," Havener said, citing the district's financial situation. "The district certainly doesn't want to make any money on it, but we can't lose money, either. We want to provide all the support we can."

Support could come in the form of providing the proposed program with use of the district's Lee Trust house near Steamboat II.

In June, the School Board approved a resolution allowing the program to use the Lee Trust house under certain conditions, including that the district won't incur any costs and that the program will provide funding for all personnel, utility, maintenance and supply costs, among other costs. The teachers plan for the center to be funded through tuition costs.

Myhre said a group of teachers, including Deirdre Dwyer-Boyd, Kandise Gilbertson and Valerie McCarthy, Facilities Director Rick Denney and Small Business Development Center Director Scott Ford, was working toward determining what needs to be done to bring the Lee Trust house up to legal code for an infant and toddler care center, how the program can be designed as a self-supporting entity of the district and what kind of grants are available to help fund maintenance and other costs. The teachers hope the center can be operating as soon as August 2004, Myhre said.

"It's a huge need for our young teachers who are having children," Myhre said. "This is also a great incentive when hiring young teachers who have a young family or who are thinking of starting a family."

The center, if opened, will charge rates competitive to other infant and toddler facilities, Myhre said. District employees will be given enrollment preference, as is stated in the resolution passed by the School Board.

One of the reasons so few infant and toddler care programs operate in the area is because of the increased expenses associated with such providers, Havener said. State guidelines mandate one licensed infant and toddler caregiver for every five infants and toddlers, while a single licensed provider can care for 10 preschool-age children, she said. National guidelines call for even smaller provider-to-child ratios -- one licensed provider for every three infants and toddlers and one licensed provider for every seven preschool-age children.

Extra services required for infant and toddler care can equate to a per-day cost for care nearly twice as high as the cost for preschooler care, Havener said.

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