Early Childhood Choices to spend $2.four million to assist wages for native little one care workers

The Timberline Learning Center in Breckenridge is pictured on May 9, 2020. Daycare centers across the county are struggling to recruit and retain staff, and the local nonprofit Early Childhood Options is trying to help by spending its reserve fund to support wages.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

The lack of childcare in Summit County was a burden on the workforce even before the coronavirus. Now the problem has worsened due to pandemic-related causes and local leaders are working together to decide how a reserve fund can help mitigate critical issues.

Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, a nonprofit that connects parents and children with childcare, explained how the subject got so complex.

“Daycare went through some pretty significant changes and impacts during the pandemic where they may have had to change their hours of operation, change their staffing patterns and I think we … saw a change in staff,” Burns said. “The childcare programs found themselves with an above-average fluctuation rate, especially after the pandemic.”

Burns said local daycare was struggling to retain staff even before the pandemic. Now that the housing crisis is at stake for the workforce, it becomes even more difficult to attract and retain talent.

“Childcare is known for its high turnover, as wages are lower compared to school districts. For example, teachers’ wages are much lower, ”said Burns. “Recruiting and retaining staff has always been a challenge. It became an increased challenge during the pandemic and especially after the pandemic. “

Representatives from Early Childhood Options, including Burns, met during a working session with the Summit Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, June 29, to discuss a reserve fund and how they could use those dollars to help out on staffing issues help.

Burns said in a text that the fund currently contains $ 2.4 million, in addition to eight months of operating expenses.

Some of the strategies that Burns and her team suggested were to create a full-time position focused solely on building a hiring pipeline to attract talent, increase wages, find childcare accommodation, and resolve equal opportunity issues.

During the discussion, District Commissioner Tamara Pogue said these funds could be used in a “transformative” way, or they could be used to address minor issues.

“I think there’s a tension between deciding we’re going to be transformative, in which case we’re all in on wages and that’s all we do and everything else comes off the list or we want this off approach to perspective. ” We’re going to solve a few minor issues so that we are positioned at the next opportunity, ”said Pogue.

During the meeting, Burns said that she and her team had already decided that wage support was their top priority and that they would primarily support this move through this funding. Burns and her team did some research ahead of the meeting and benchmarked a starting salary of $ 21 an hour, which would cost about $ 3 million over five years.

Burns noted that this was only an estimate and all commissioners said they would like to see more details which will be reviewed at another working meeting in mid to late August.

The commissioners also expressed other strategies that they saw as high priority, such as recruiting and identifying shelter for the workforce.

Burns said she was happy with the strategy identified and that the Early Childhood Options team had a lot more work to do to pin down the details.

“(The money) turns into wages,” Burns said in an interview a few days later. “I don’t know that it will inevitably lead to increases across the board. We are still collecting some data in order to obtain our basic data and to set our new benchmarks. … We want to set new standards where leading class teachers have a starting salary that is really worth living in and manageable for professional work and life in Summit County. “

Last year, Burns said that she and her team have recognized inefficiencies with the current childcare system and that she will eventually revise the structure that is currently in place.

“I think what we’ve learned over the years, but during the pandemic it became even more apparent that the structural problems with funding childcare centers make it very, very difficult to maintain competitive wages. “Said Burns. “We want to be able to bring in some public support, something financial, to really build a system that is really capable of supporting higher wages over time that really deal with work duties and educational experience.”

Burns said childcare has traditionally been based on income provided by parents, which is then used to determine wage rates. Instead, Burns wants to evaluate what it takes to run a quality childcare center and then examine ways to fund that operation.

In the meantime, Burns and her team will continue to collect research that will be presented to the board at the beginning of the school year.

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