LF School Board approves moving forward with child care center | Morrison County Record


    The Little Falls School Board approved moving forward in partnering with the city of Little Falls, to construct a child care center on the west side in Little Falls, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

    While the construction of the facility is estimated to begin in about two years, the city and the district needed to make a decision quickly, as the city only has until Dec. 31, to have its proposal and initial grant information submitted to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

    A multitude of people from the community attended the board meting, of which 10 signed up to comment publicly. Of those, five spoke in favor of the child care center, while the remaining five spoke against its development.

    “As a growing company, we’re looking to expand and grow our business,” said Dan Ortloff, co-owner and president of Falls Fabricating in Little Falls.

    Ortloff said as many other businesses in the area, the current employee base struggles with finding reliable child care. As people are looking to work, Ortloff said having an opportunity to enroll their child(ren) in child care is important. Because of this, he said he is in favor of the proposed child care facility.

    On Oct. 5, a retreat was held for the Little Falls School Board members at the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls. The retreat was also open to the public. One of the topics that was discussed during the meeting, said City Administrator Jon Radermacher, was details in regard to the proposed child care program.

    At Monday’s meeting, Cassie Fredregill said she had attended the school board retreat when the policies of what would be included in the child care program were discussed.

    “One of the slides showed that their policy includes the Sharia compliant. So my husband is active duty military and so what Sharia compliant entails is kind of a lot of things. So Sharia compliant is a Muslim religion culture. I don’t know how to exactly define it,” she said. “So what that would be signing into our school then would mean, it’s very upsetting, is that we would be going overseas to a well-known terrorist, who is not allowed on American soil, to have that implicated into our school. We are Americans. I’m a proud American and I just don’t think that is right. Anyway, we don’t need to have any ties with the Muslims overseas, well-known terrorists.”

    Fredregill said the military has a special program in which families of active duty soldiers are given money to pay for child care costs.

    “I also know that the TCC Head Start Program, as well,” she said.

    In addition, Fredregill said she believes more funding needs to be given to “put the phonics system back into the school” and “get it back to where it needs to be.”

    Addressing the comment Fredregill had made about Sharia compliance, Radermacher said that First Children’s Finance had given a presentation at the Oct. 5 school board retreat about what the organization does and the services it provides.

    “They work with Muslim day care centers that may seek financing, may provide gap loans and those loans that they provide to those centers are compliant with Sharia law,” he said.

    Radermacher said First Children’s Finance is not involved in the proposed child care project other than “helping to guide the financials and doing some cost/cash flow estimates,” he said.

    René Krousey told the School Board she was not in favor of a partnership between the school district and the city of Little Falls to construct a child care center.

    “It’s not the school and the city’s responsibility to make it their business to watch children. There’s plenty of people out there who want to open up day cares. If they’re not, it’s because of a lot of rules and things that they’ve changed is what makes it difficult. I don’t think our kids need any more type of government interference. It’s enough of what’s going on in the school system when they start kindergarten, let alone this community day care system getting them as like newborn babies,” she said.

    In addition, Krousey said the grant money the city will receive for the project has ultimately still been paid by taxpayers.

    Carol Anderson, executive director of Morrison County Community Development, said the need for child care has been ongoing for many years.

    “I’ve been working with businesses here for over 30 years. There’s a definite need for day care and we’ve funded some of them in this room and others in Randall and other places, trying to get them going, but there’s such a demand,” she said.

    As many are concerned about the cash flow issue of the proposed child care facility, Anderson said she had spoken with several businesses, who said they were willing to sponsor a few slots to help with the cash flow issue.

    “The city is also making that fund available to other day care providers, if they want to fix up their day care center, what they do in their homes, I would hope that we could all come together, particularly the day care providers, to provide first class day care throughout the whole county. You know, we don’t need to be arguing, fighting with one another all the time. This is for our kids and our little kids to give them a good start in life,’ she said.

    Working closely with the CareerForce Center in Little Falls, Anderson said there are currently 67 people on the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), and 15 of those have said they have no choice but to be on that welfare program because they don’t have access to child care

    “So don’t we want to get people off of these roles and get them working and have their kids get a good education?” she asked.

    Sarah Marrow spoke as well. Marrow said she questioned the school district getting involved with a child care facility when she has been told over several years the district does not have enough staff or resources for other needs.

    “The school district does not have the staff or resources to provide your child with a one-to-one para. The school district does not have the staff and resources to provide your child with the swimming services. The school district does not have the staff and resources to scaffold the general education classroom to allow for inclusion for your child,” she said.

    Marrow listed several more examples to the School Board.

    “If you cannot support our current students with the staff and resources they need, how the heck do we plan to meet the staff and resource requirements of a child care facility on school property? You can’t. You need to focus on the current staff and resource shortage before you bite off more than you can chew.” Marrow said. “Has anyone thought about how we will staff and support children that want to be at this day care on school grounds that have disabilities?”

    Marrow said the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was put in place to ensure that “all children have the right to be supported and participate in extracurricular activities and non-academic activities that happen within the school district and on school grounds.”

    “If we do not have the staffing resources to provide to our disability community at the present time in our district, how will we provide the staff and resources at a school-based child care facility that would be protected under ADA? If the school district does not meet these requirements for any child with a disability that would want to join the school-based child care, the school district would be violating the law if the school district denied the child care services to the child with disability.”

    Tom Hoggarth, chair on the Board of Directors of the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, said he and several others had a forum with the manufacturers in Little Falls. Seven of nine manufacturers had attended the forum, he said.

    “They need people to work and they’re having a hard time with housing and they need day care. They said they need a day care to get people to come to Little Falls to work and expand their businesses, so I am speaking in favor of this child care facility,” he said.

    Having attended the school board meeting in September, Jeff Staneis said it appeared that was the first time the school board members had heard about the child care facility proposal. Like a few of the residents who spoke against constructing the facility, Staneis said he, too, felt that the city and the school district were rushing into the project.

    “In my plain view, child care should not be government run,” he said.

    Deb Boelz, president at the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, said the shortage of available child care is a national issue, not just a local issue. Eventually it got to the point where the United States Department of Agriculture recognized the need and, as a result, created grants for communities, she said.

    “We were lucky enough to get one and we have done the research. The application that went in in 2001, laid out everything that we needed in this community to get this grant here and we were awarded, so thank you to everyone who contributed to that,” Boelz said. “On a Chamber level, we have been talking about this at statewide meetings for years. None of us have a solution. We all want our businesses to be successful, not only attract new businesses, but our businesses that are here need day care, as well.”

    Looking at what has caused the crisis, Boelz said a lot has come down to all it takes to become a licensed child care provider. Over the years, the rules and regulations have become stricter and as a result, fewer people are able to become licensed, she said.

    Boelz said what makes the location by the Lincoln Elementary School ideal, is that there is already a playground installed as well as commercial, staffed kitchen.

    “We got the infrastructure there,” she said.

    The construction, including hiring of staff and more, of the child care facility is estimated to be completed in two years.

    “We needed this five to 10 years ago,” she said.

    Another benefit of having the child care center operated by the school district, Boelz said, is that the likelihood of the child care center being closed due to emergencies or illness is greatly minimized since there would be someone ready to fill in for the person who was unable to come in that day.

    The last to speak was Mike Kaluza, high school business teacher at the Little Falls Community High School.

    “I’ve been a lifelong resident and I’ve been employed by the Little Falls School District the last 14 years. We know the data is clear that we need day care available in this community,” he said.

    Speaking to his students about the future, Kaluza said many students said one of their biggest concerns that would prevent them from moving to Little Falls after college is the lack of available child care.

    Kaluza said one thing for people to remember, too, is that the $1.5 million the city of Little Falls received in grant money for child care is not transferable to be used in a different area.

    “We can’t just move it to anywhere that we want. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said.

    Kaluza also addressed the misinformation that has been spread in the community about what occurs in the school district.

    “My other concern is talking about some of the things that have been accused of our school district and our teaching staff. We continually ask people who bring up these claims of CRT (Critical Race Theory) being taught, LGBTQ curriculum and even litter boxes in our bathrooms. Please, tell us if these things are happening. We want to know about it, so we can put a stop to it,” he said. “But when we ask people to give us an example, tell us what classroom this has happened and what day, what building. Please, tell us where this is happening, because the teacher’s union does not support that stuff. But I have yet to be told when it happened, what building it happened in.”

    Kaluza said that especially during the pandemic, parents had available access to everything the students were taught.”

    Supt. Greg Johnson held a presentation about the child care project. Johnson said there are many benefits to having the school district operate the child care center. Some of the benefits include the staff having experience working with children, a connectivity to preschool, it’s convenient for families, the expertise of the staff, access to social workers, it has an impact on enrollment, access to a playground, food service, safety and security, special education, year round employment and more.

    The plan is to construct a 10,000 square foot facility, which will cost a total of $3.2 million including furnishing and material, Johnson said.

    In addition to the $1.5 million grant money, the city will put $200,000 toward the project. The school district will contribute $1.5 million, Johnson said.

    Johnson said the conceptual plan includes five child care rooms, two preschool rooms and one large motor room.

    As comparison, Johnson said the 8,000 square foot early childhood addition that was constructed in 2019, cost $4 million to build.

    Johnson said the $1.5 million would be funded through a lease levy. As school districts have the opportunity to lease levy up to $212 per pupil, estimating that with the number of about 2,400 students in the Little Falls School District, the maximum levy capacity would be about $537,038.

    “Right now, we already lease levy. That’s not something new for the school district. We lease levy the Exchange Arena. We lease levy for the Mid-State Special Ed Co-op. We lease levy for the CEC,” he said.

    Johnson said the tax impact lease levying would have is estimated to cost $10 per year for a $150,000 home.

    Looking at how many children the center would be able to care for, Johnson said there would be room for 16 infants, 35 toddlers and 60 preschool-aged children. What determines how many children in each category can be served is how many children one staff member can legally be responsible for at a time. The older a child is, the more children one person can be responsible for, he said.

    Since the center would likely not operate at full capacity as soon as it opens, Johnson said it is estimated the center would see a loss of $149,877 the first year. However, he said, the second year and beyond, the center would make a profit of about $25,917.

    While several people at the meeting wondered why the school district would suddenly provide child care, Johnson said providing child care is not something new for the district. In fact, the district has had several programs in place for many years, such as the Kids Korner and Hideout and other before and after school programs. The school district also provided child care during the pandemic. The only difference, Johnson said, is that the district would add the age group of infants and toddlers to their program.

    The proposed weekly rates for the child care center are $205 for infants, $185 for toddlers and $175 for preschool-aged children.

    “This is a just a proposal, so these rates are not set,” Johnson said.

    Initially, the proposed rates $175, $160 and $148 were lower than the child care rates in the area. After comparing the proposed rates with the rates of Big Adventures Child Care Center in Little Falls, the rates were increased to about $15 above that of Big Adventures, Johnson said.

    Besides the job opportunities that will be available in the community, Kaluza said the child care center also provides an opportunity for students to work. Just this fall, he said, high school teacher Julie Slettom had a class of about 25 students who were receiving the child care license status through the Initiative Foundation.

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