EDITORIAL: Caring for the Young, Part Four

Read Part One

“I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises. All lies and jest… Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest…”

— Paul Simon, “The Boxer”

No one expects a 52-page report, like the one delivered to the Pagosa Springs Town Council and the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners by the Early Care and Education Work Group, to tell the story of our community’s early childcare failures and successes, in a comprehensive manner. Nor would we expect such a report to clearly lay out all the possible solutions to what the authors describe as a serious shortage of childcare “slots” for Pagosa children, age 0-5 years. Although we did learn that the group believed it would cost at least $12,000 per child to offer “quality” childcare.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally stated that the Work Group had received funding for this study totalling $60,000. That was an error. The funding for the study was $30,000. I apologize for the error.]

Even the 452-page charter school application, submitted to the Archuleta School District last August by the all-volunteer Pagosa Charter School Initiative, barely scratched the surface in its attempt to explain how a new elementary school could offer an innovative, child-centered educational program with a taxpayer subsidy of only about $7,000 per child per year.

And even a multi-part editorial in the community’s local online news magazine — like this one you are now reading in the Daily Post, published without the benefit of government subsidies and offered free to our readers through the magic of the Internet — even such an article can barely scratch the surface of such a complex topic.

A man hears what he wants to hear… and reads what he wants to read… and disregards the rest.

kids fair pagosa springs

I heard something during the ECE Work group presentation last Tuesday morning that tweaked my ear. I wasn’t sure, at that moment, why this particular little comment seemed slightly out of whack.

It wasn’t until I got back to the office and started to try and make sense of the ECE group’s ‘Final Report’ that I realized why I’d been left with an uncomfortable feeling.

Here’s the comment that caught my ear. A seemingly innocent comment. We are listening to Work Group volunteer David Smith, who is presenting “Model 2” of the three “models” presented by the Work Group. Here’s a summary of “Model 2” taken from the 52-page report (which you can download here.)

We will note a few details about this “model.”  It applies only to a “center” with 52 childcare slots — not to expanded home-based care solutions — and only to a center that serves ages 1-5 year round, and only to a center with a Colorado Shines rating of “3-5”.

Work Group volunteer David Smith:

“But it gets more complicated now, because there are already centers providing these services. So, as a starting point, to simplify the problem, let’s just figure that Head Start and Our Savior Lutheran preschool programs will continue as they are, unchanged by any intervention. Right now, we’ll start from there.”

The Pagosa Springs has three operating early care centers: the Head Start program at the Mardel Gallegos Center on South 8th Street, the Our Savior Lutheran preschool on Meadows Drive, and the Seeds of Learning Early Care Center on South 7th Street. All of these centers struggle to remain financially viable, while simultaneously remaining affordable for families — especially, for low-income, single-parent families that may have the strongest desire for affordable childcare.

We also have at least 7 home-based childcare providers, licensed to accommodate up to 72 children, year-round, at an operating cost far below what it apparently costs, per child, to run a “center.”

But to “simplify the problem,” Mr. Smith and the Work Group are suggesting that we leave Head Start and Our Savior Lutheran — and all of the various home-based care providers — “unchanged by any intervention.”

Which I take to mean, only Seeds of Learning would then benefit from the proposed government subsidies? And no one else?

Another quick look at “Model 2” might support that assumption.

Seeds of Learning currently serves approximately 50 children, at an approximate cost per child of $12,000. According to the ECE report, only Seeds of Learning and the Head Start center have a “Quality Rating” that matches the “3-5” rating suggested in this model — but Head Start does not match the enrollment ages.  “Model 2” was the only model presented on Tuesday that comprehensively addressed all the early care age groups, other than infants. So, I feel compelled to pose the question: Was this “model” constructed to justify a $500,000 government subsidy for only one kind of childcare facility — which is, the kind operated by Seeds of Learning?

At the conclusion of the presentation, following an impassioned appeal by Work Group member Dee McPeek, we heard County Commissioner Michael Whiting thank the three key Work Group presenters: volunteers Dee McPeek and David Smith, and paid staffer Jan Santopietro.

“I want to thank these three presenters. They spearheaded this effort, and did most of the grunt work. There were concentric circles around that; I was part of the next circle out. If you dig into these binders, you will see, there is a tremendous amount of analysis; a tremendous amount of work.”

We will note, in passing, that David Smith is husband to Jean Smith, Vice President of the Seeds of Learning board of directors. Dee McPeek also sits on the Seeds of Learning board. Also participating in the Work Group were two other people connected with Seeds of Learning: Garry Lassman and Teddy Finney.

As far as I can tell from the report, none of the directors of the other 9 centers and home-based operations worked on, or signed their name to, the ECE Work Group report.

No report can tell the full story, just as no online editorial can tell the full story.  We only get pieces of the picture, from here and from there.  I will share a few more pieces tomorrow in Part Five.

Read Part Five…

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.