Laurie Best, the town’s long-range planner and a member of the Child Care Advisory Committee, is working to complete the updated needs assessment. She said the study should be completed around March 2016. She feels confident the town is now better addressing the need in recent years.
“Years ago we had waitlists 200 kids long,” she said.
Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, which was established in 1991 as the Summit County child care resource and referral agency, said her office has noticed a recent uptick.
“Child care referral numbers (countywide) in the last year have gone up dramatically,” she said.
Burns, who has run ECO since 2000, said in the past demographic data indicated child care costs were driving families from the county.
“Housing and child care are likely to be your two biggest expenses,” she said. “The town is really focused on child care to make Breck an affordable place to live.”
RECENT FUNDING EFFORTS
The town council voted unanimously recently to transfer $1.3 million to the child care fund, Brewer said.
“We voted 7-0 to allocate enough funds to bring the balance to the point of covering costs until the fall of 2021,” he said.
The fund transfer has become a workaround for the town after voters narrowly rejected a ballot measure to create a perpetual funding source tied to property taxes in November 2014. Brewer said the initiative was defeated by less than 100 votes.
“It caused town council to take money out of our budget if we wanted to prioritize child care,” he said.
“The program tries to make sure local families can afford the cost of child care,” she said. “It covers the gap between what the families can afford to pay and what it costs.”
The no-vote to a continuing funding source was taken as an indication the tuition assistance program needed enhanced oversight, Best said.
“It was good for us to hear there were improvements we could make to the program,” she said. “We want to streamline the program, making it more efficient and easier to use while adding oversight to tighten up the criteria for eligibility.”
Brewer said the council prioritized continuing the program so the town’s workforce can afford to educate their kids.
“They pay the lion’s share of child care but we try to help them get over the hump to be able to afford the cost,” he said.
The program is not helping people who don’t need the assistance, Brewer noted.
“A little bit of assistance with child care can be the difference between that kid getting a good education and watching Sesame Street,” he said.
Local educator Leslie Davis, director of the Timberline Learning Center, one of four facilities offering early childhood education in Breckenridge, said the tuition assistance program is unique.
“Very few communities support this kind of initiative,” she said. “It helped transform the town from a transient community to a more family friendly area.”
Continuing efforts to address the needs of families and individuals struggling with cost of living issues is what separates Breckenridge from other nearby ski towns, Brewer said.
“That’s what sets us apart from Vail and Aspen,” he said. “We have a middle class made possible largely by affordable housing.”
From Brewer’s perspective, having people of various economic strata’s residing in Breck makes it a real community.
“We’re not just a shell where wealthy people live and the workers drive in,” he said.
Best stressed the importance of remaining a real town.
“Breck should be distinctive from other resort communities because we want to retain our diversity,” she said.
Statistically Summit County is a challenging area for working families to get by, Best said.
“We have more dual-work families than any other county in Colorado,” she said. “Most work multiple jobs, that’s what it takes to survive up here.”
The county has a high percentage of working families, Burns said, noting that younger families are especially challenged since they are typically at their lowest earning potential.
“If both parents are working child care becomes critical to your quality of life,” she said.
Burns said a number of the families they assist are forced to reallocate money from their food budget to cover child care expenses.
Brewer noted the issue contributes to employers’ staffing challenges.
“They are not able to hire and retain many of their employees without their employees being able to afford child care,” he said.
In the big picture the town’s continued success depends on a stable workforce, Brewer explained.
“The perception of our town relies largely on the experience our guests have with front line employees,” he said.
The impact of addressing community needs like affordable child care extends far beyond the parents, Best said.
“To be in a community where there are families and there is a workforce keeps our town real,” she said.
Put simply, education creates better citizens, Davis said.
“It’s recognized on a global level the importance of early childhood education,” she said.
Investing in children’s education at an earlier age leads to long-term benefits that Best said are noticeable when entering kindergarten.
“Teachers can distinguish which kids attended preschool because they are more prepared,” she said.
Improved social and emotional development has been attributed to early childhood education, Burns said.
“We don’t know exactly what the link is but we do know children are healthier and do better in educational pursuits,” she said.
Children who receive early childhood education generally exhibit lowered incidences of obesity and tobacco use, increased educational achievement and better lifetime earning potential, Burns said.
Brewer said over the decades a consciousness has developed in Breckenridge that the town can continue to evolve as a community for all.
“We need to think about real people, their stories and their challenges,” he said.
Anyone who needs information about child care options in Breckenridge should contact Lacey Mailman, referral specialist with Early Childhood Options at (970) 406-3070.