Steamboat Springs Little Friends Day Care, a 24-year-old child-care center in Oak Creek, has been forced to close on short notice, sending parents scrambling for child care and baby sitters.
Little Friends was the only child-care facility in the South Routt community. Nancy Stahoviak, president of the day care's board of directors, said financial problems forced the closure.
"When you give us three days to find day care out of desperation you're forced to put (children) in situations that are unsafe," said Leslie Faulkner, the parent of a 3 1/2-year-old and a 10-year-old child.
Faulkner and other parents were told last Wednesday that Little Friends Day Care and Preschool Center would close. Two days later, the facility closed its doors.
Faulkner and her husband both work full time and have managed to find a baby sitter for the current week, but they have no idea what they'll do after that.
"I don't understand why they couldn't have held off to give us more time," Faulkner said.
Stahoviak said the board had wanted to give the parents more time, but workers at the facility began resigning immediately after learning the center did not have funds to operate beyond Aug. 10.
Last year, Little Friends closed its infant room in hopes of saving the toddler and preschool programs. Infants require more staff and higher standards that are costly to day-care operations.
Rates for service were increased to $25 per day for preschool children and $27 per day for toddlers, but those rates were still $2 to $3 below rates charged by Steamboat Springs day care facilities. Little Friends was also more aggressive in getting grants for operations, equipment and supplies.
Still, a vicious cycle of staff turnover and inconsistent enrollment made it difficult to balance out the finances.
"You need to provide a certain ratio of teachers to children," said Little Friends Board Secretary Clare Taylor.
"A lot of kids didn't require the day care five days a week, so it was hard to project the correct staff," Taylor said. "We don't have the numbers or even the qualified staff always."
Taylor said it is difficult enough finding qualified teachers in South Routt for full-time work. The inability to provide consistent scheduling made it even more difficult.
Stahoviak said the Little Friends board is hoping to find a way to reopen in September as a half-day preschool.
"We'll start from the beginning and build up again," she said. "And if we do reopen as a preschool, we'll open at a higher rate."
Faulkner said a half-day program won't do her preschooler or her 10-year-old any good.
"There are so many children in South Routt who are going home alone because there's no after-school programs," Faulkner said. "A half-day won't help me and my 3 1/2-year-old at all. We have a lot of full-time working parents in South Routt."
Renee Donahue, president of the board of directors for First Impressions of Routt County, said the Oak Creek facility's closure simply reinforces the need for additional child-care funding in Routt County.
First Impressions is advocating a half-cent sales-tax increase in Steamboat Springs and a 1 mill property tax in Routt County to be dedicated to child-care funding. The Routt County Commissioners have already approved a resolution calling for an election in November on the property tax. The City Council has given tentative approval to an election on the sales tax, though that ballot question still needs final approval from the City Council Aug. 21.
Child-care facilities have argued that current rates of $28 to $32 per day are not enough to fund operations.
In the meantime, some Oak Creek parents are looking to Steamboat day care facilities to find space for their children.
Donahue said she thought there were spaces for children ages 2 1/2 and older. She thought wrong.
"There were spots, but there wasn't staff available," Donahue said.
Faulkner said the two day-care centers she called could only offer her classes for her preschooler two or three days per week.
"It's detrimental to my daughter to be uprooted from her day care she's been going to all her life and put her in two different day cares," Faulkner said. "It saddens me we have no facility for our children. We have no rec center, nothing for our children."