After years of preparation and conversations with potential partners, the Finney County Economic Development Corp. detailed the latest plans for their extensive childcare network, a partnership of local private and public organizations that could tend to the area’s childcare shortage.

Lona DuVall, president and CEO of the FCEDC, broke down plans for the network, deemed the Finney County Childcare and Early Learning Network, at the Garden City USD 457 Board of Education meeting Monday.

DuVall said Finney County is short about 700 childcare slots and the shortage makes it more difficult to recruit new residents and businesses to the area. Strict state regulations, a lack of usable facilities or sustainable funding make it difficult to create more childcare openings, and local training options are limited, she said.

Ideally, the Childcare and Early Learning Network would be a solution, or the beginning of one, for all those barriers, DuVall said.

“It’s a big undertaking. But, quite frankly, yes, our job is to recruit new industry and business and to help our existing businesses to grow. But, all of those have one thing in common: they all need people…” DuVall said. “Fortunately in our community, with people comes families and comes young children … We need to be doing everything we can as a community to really help those kids to thrive when they’re growing up Garden City.”

The network would own and operate several childcare centers, including one large center in an existing building and several smaller centers that may be constructed on USD 457 campuses, in new housing developments or other open spaces around town, DuVall said.

The large center would serve about 88 kids and potentially offer overnight care and the smaller centers would each serve 59 kids, from infants to kindergarteners, at least, DuVall said. With tuition set at $165 a week, she said both centers could operate without losing money.

The network would also offer resources and support, including training, licensing assistance and business and career development, to individuals and organizations wanting to offer childcare services, she said. It would be funded by tuition, grants, public funding and corporate and public entity partnerships, DuVall said.

It will partner with Russell Child Development Center, the Kansas Children’s Service League, Kansas Child Care Training Opportunities and the Kansas Inservice Training System for childcare services and with Garden City High School, Garden City Community College and Newman University for local training and education initiatives for current or prospective childcare workers.

DuVall said opening the centers would create at least 95 new full-time jobs in Finney County and free up approximately another 388 current parents to join to the local workforce.

The network’s board of directors would include representatives from two major private employers, one financial institution, Garden City, Finney County, the FCEDC, USD 457, GCCC and the KCSL, as well as an early childhood education specialist and regulations specialist.

Business, childcare and community advisory boards would include childcare experts, community members and representatives from business owners, the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Vision, local center and home-based daycare providers, the Russell Child Development Center, the LiveWell Finney County Healthcare Coalition, St. Catherine Hospital and Genesis Family Health.

While the FCEDC has long been laying the groundwork, researching locations and meeting with partners, it still has to officially form and find board members, secure initial funding from some partners, begin center construction and license its facilities, DuVall said.

Superintendent Steve Karlin said district administration will continue meeting with the FCEDC and ultimately draft a formal memorandum of understanding for an interlocal agreement defining the partnership, which will likely focus on space, food and custodial services. DuVall said Tuesday that “a lot more exploration and discussion” lies between now and that point.

But Karlin told the board he agreed with DuVall’s points and supported a network that increased childcare capacity throughout the community and helped expose young children to early childhood education programs as early as possible.

“Honestly I think these guys are about two years ahead of where the state is,” Karlin said.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.