The city of Aspen has received one bid from a prospective child-care provider to fill the void left earlier this month by a longtime, locally owned business that had been operating in the municipal government-owned Yellow Brick Building.
The national search was posted last month as a request for proposals on BidNet, a bidding platform for governments.
The city didn’t have any luck in attracting interested parties in March when it issued a request for proposals from licensed child-care providers in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The city is aiming to find an operator to take over four classrooms at the Yellow Brick this fall, according to Assistant City Manager Diane Foster.
Aspen Playgroup, which served over 40 children and was owned by Kadi Kuhlenberg, closed its doors June 3 after reaching an impasse with the city on new lease terms.
A citizen advisory board that oversees the city’s taxpayer-funded child-care program, known as Kids First, decided last summer that Playgroup Aspen and another provider, Aspen Mountain Tots, must operate five days a week rather than four.
The terms of their leases were changed in 2021 and were to take effect in September 2023.
The mandate was an effort to increase capacity in child-care offerings.
The Kids First board is following direction of Aspen City Council, which in 2021 made increasing child-care capacity one of its priorities recognizing that without access to affordable early-learning education, parents cannot contribute to the local workforce and economy.
Yet the early childhood education industry is facing serious problems with low pay for teachers, rigorous state and federal regulations and locally, no affordable places to live.
The challenging landscape is likely a driving reason the city has received only one bid from an interested provider.
Foster said critical needs to increase child-care capacity in Aspen are pay and housing, which are difficult nuts to crack and ones that the municipal government continues to work on with dedicated sales tax revenue.
City voters in 1989 passed a 0.45% sales tax, of which 55% goes to the Kids First program and the remaining amount toward affordable housing. The tax was renewed by voters in 2008 and runs through 2040; it has generated $34.9 million since 1994, which is as far back as the city’s financial system tracks.
Generating just under $2 million a year, most of the revenue is spent on financial aid for families, tuition buydowns and other subsidies, as well as support for the program like quality improvement efforts and resource teachers.
Foster said the city would not want to take money away from financial aid for families to increase pay for teachers or subsidize the rent at the Yellow Brick to $1 a year as a way for providers to up their wages.
She said she can’t divulge the identity of the bidder until a child-care committee comprised of herself, Kids First staff and board members is convened this week to review the proposal.
“There’s only one, so let’s hope they are qualified,” she said.
Foster said Kids First staff have approached child-care providers in the valley to again gauge their interest in setting up shop at the Yellow Brick.
As for the one bidder on BidNet, Foster said she expects that a decision will be made later this week.