Valley News – Town mulls grants for child care centers


Valley News Correspondent

Published: 12/19/2022 8:47:45 PM

Modified: 12/19/2022 8:47:48 PM

WOODSTOCK — At a special meeting last week, the Woodstock Economic Development Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the Selectboard give final approval to grants totaling $330,000 for four child care centers with the aim of expanding child care capacity in town.

If approved by the Selectboard at their meeting on Tuesday, the grants would enable three Woodstock child care centers — Rainbow Playschool, The Community Campus, Woodstock Christian Child Care — along with Bridgewater Community Childcare in neighboring Bridgewater, to hire more staff, improve equipment and build new classrooms and infrastructure with the potential to create a total of as many as 79 new child care spaces for families in area.

The $330,000 comes out of the EDC reserve fund’s grant budget, which EDC Chairman Jon Spector said would still have roughly $100,000 remaining after paying out the four grants. Representatives from the four child care centers presented their proposals for funds at Thursday night’s meeting.

Woodstock, like many communities in the Twin States, is struggling with a child care shortage.

Vermont needs an additional 8,700 full-time child care slots to meet current demand, according to data from Let’s Grow Kids, a Vermont-based child care-advocacy nonprofit. In Windsor County, which includes Woodstock, 628 total slots are needed — 352 for infants, 62 for toddlers and 114 for preschoolers — and neighboring Orange County has need for 582 total slots.

Todd Ulman, chairman of the EDC’s child care working group, which was established last spring to address the town’s child care shortage, said they’d identified two main needs after several discussions with local families and providers: more child care spaces for children ages 6 weeks to 3 years old and a total lack of an after-school program for pre-kindergarten children.

Two surveys, one conducted in August and the other in November, determined that roughly 45 Woodstock families needed child care for a child under the age of 3 and that after-school programs needed 23 more spaces.

Two of the grant proposals, Rainbow’s and Bridgewater’s, could create as many as 45 new child care spaces for children under 3 years old.

As currently proposed, Rainbow Preschool would receive $140,000 to help cover the hiring and training of five new full-time staff members, which would help them increase their total enrollment by 17 to 21 children under the age of 3. There are currently 24 children enrolled at the preschool, though its licensed capacity is 46. Kelly Barger, who works for Rainbow, said its current waiting list includes more than 80 local families.

Children from Woodstock constitute as much as two-thirds of the enrolled students at Bridgewater Childcare, according to Bridgewater Area Community Fund board member Malena Egan, the center’s representative at the meeting. The center is slated to receive a grant of $100,000 to help open a second classroom for children under the age of 3 at its facility in the former Bridgewater Elementary School building. The new classroom would expand Bridgewater’s capacity by 24 spots with an initial goal of being open by December 2023.

Under its proposal, Woodstock Christian Child Care would receive $60,000 to expand into a second room at its facility, which would be used for an after-school program for pre-K through second graders from Woodstock Elementary School and would create up to 20 new spaces.

The Community Campus grant would supply that center with $30,000 that would enable them to hire three new staff members over the next 18 months, retain current staff and increase supplies for an expected expansion of enrollment from 18 to 32 children in its after-school program for children ages 5 to 12.

Ulman said an increase in child care slots would have a positive financial impact for Woodstock, noting that on average every new child that enters into the Woodstock-area school system brings in around $21,000 for local public schools through the state Education Fund.

“It’s not about 75 or so (new child care spaces) this year,” Ulman said. “This will allow these facilities based on their projections and self-sustaining model for this amount of children to continue for many years to come.”

Ray Couture can be reached with questions at [email protected].

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