School board candidates discuss district’s role to address child care crisis |

School board candidates discuss district’s role to address child care crisis

Candidates for Steamboat Springs School District Board of Education, from left, Chresta Brinkman, Katy Lee and Ken Mauldin, participate in a forum hosted by First Impressions of Routt County on Wednesday. Candidate Christopher Waters did not participate.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Candidates for the Steamboat Springs School District Board of Education were asked what they believe the district’s role should be to address the local child care crisis and how it could try to improve access to preschool programs it offers in each elementary school.

Hosted by First Impressions of Routt County, the local early childhood education council, the forum posed questions to three candidates running for the board. The fourth candidate, Christopher Waters, did not attend the forum.

The school district is often talked about as a major player in a child care solution, both because of work it already does offering preschool and after-school programs and because it is one of the largest employers in Routt County.

The district does not offer child care for its employees, though it did organize a system to provide it to some teachers during the pandemic when the district was using alternative learning models. Like other local businesses, a lack of child care is a barrier for some to take jobs in the district, which currently has 22 job openings.

Angela Pleshe, moderator of the forum and program leader for First Impressions, said while the district offers preschool, it can be hard for some parents to get their child there in the morning as the district doesn’t offer busing for preschoolers. Pleshe said the South Routt School District does transport preschoolers on the bus.

Candidate Ken Mauldin said he thinks providing transportation for these students is a good idea, but child restraint recommendations, the need for additional adults on the bus and conflicts with other route timing are why most districts — including Eagle County and Aspen — do not provide this.

“In my view, organizations like First Impressions should collaborate with the three school districts and other community nonprofits,” Mauldin said.

Katy Lee, who is running for reelection, said the rationale for moving preschools into the elementary schools was to have a more neighborhood feel, but there are issues — crossing U.S. Highway 40 near Sleeping Giant, getting to the Strawberry Park campus — for some parents.

“I don’t think busing is the easy answer,” Lee said. “We can put a kid with an (Individualized Education Plan) in our bus system easily, but I really think it is going to have to be on a case-by-case basis.”

Chresta Brinkman, also seeking reelection, said she would want to look at other districts that are providing this service for students. She also said some parents may not feel comfortable putting preschool aged students on the bus.

“Making sure that the schools facilitate a way for parents to connect and be able to carpool,” Brinkman said, offering a potential solution.

When looking beyond preschool, Brinkman said she would like to see the district provide child care for staff every academic year, expanding on what was done last year. The community needs to work to find unique solutions for schools and businesses, she said.

“When we work together, I’m confident we’re going to find unique ways to be able to address this,” Brinkman said. “I think we’ll be stronger when we figure out ways to understand this unique to schools, uniquely to businesses and uniquely to our community at large.”

The district is already seeing issues hiring because of both housing and child care shortages, Lee said, and it is one of her biggest concerns for the district. Lee said there is space in district buildings that could be utilized in the short term and land that could be used in the long term.

“What we don’t have is sustainable funding,” Lee said. “We’re going to have to work with both the county and the city, and look at grants.”

Mauldin said child care should be incorporated with the district’s compensation package. To fund that, Mauldin said the city needs to dissolve the Mountain Urban Renewal Agreement, which he said takes about $1 million in tax revenue away from the district every year to clean up blight on the mountain.

“The community should recognize that there’s no remaining blight on the mountain that justifies taking away a million dollars from the school district,” Mauldin said. “Those funds can be utilized to provide child care services for district employees.”

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