Last year the St. James School Board was tasked with making a crucial decision when they found out that KinderReady, a childcare center and preschool in St. James, would be closing.

A group of parents had approached the School Board and made a pitch for the district to expand their childcare services.

Because of the limited amount of child care providers in the area and the risk of possibly losing families with children enrolled in school or future students they examined what it would take.

When the District found out that it would be able to make the expansion for less than $40,000 St. James Superintendent Becky Cselovszki explained that they decided to make the investment and “merge” with KinderReady.

The issues around lack of child care access isn’t just unique to St. James or Watonwan County however instead is something that is part of a statewide problem with not enough childcare options for the amount of people that need to work.

KinderReady

Like many child care centers, then owner of KinderReady, Brooke Malmgren explained that due to strict regulations it is very difficult for centers to make a profit.

“It was a very hard decision to close KinderReady Preschool and Daycare Center. We had wonderful employees and great families! My husband and I grew up in St. James so many of our families were people we grew up with. Rule 3 childcare centers have many rules and regulations. With these rules and regulations came very little room to turn a profit. We tried many things over the years to restructure the preschool and daycare to be able to keep it open. We finally had to make the decision to close. “

While the decision to close the Center, a place where many local children including her own attended, was difficult she is glad that the school district was able to expand and no children would be without child care because of it.

“Fortunately the school expanded their daycare and no families or staff were displaced. It was extremely sad to close KinderReady, but our children grew up there and had wonderful experiences that they will cherish forever.”

KinderReady closing its doors is something that has been happening across the state a lot recently. According to the Center for Rural Policy & Development Greater Minnesota lost 15,377 licensed child care spots between 2006 and 2015. Strict regulations for centers Although the struggle to find child care is a struggle all across Greater Minnesota a place like St. James is one of the communities that is struggling the most.

Despite expanding their capacity of child care there is still a much greater demand for childcare than there is spaces available. Currently the Little Red Caboose Child Care Center can hold a total of 77 children ages 4 and under. Despite the sizeable amount of children that the center can hold they still find that there are plenty of children that need child care. Currently the center is full for almost every age group and has a long waiting list for new children to attend. The center would also only be able to take on more children if they found a suitable facility because currently they are at the state limit per age group in their current facility.

According to the “Legislative Task Force on Access to Affordable Child Care” a report and recommendations that was provided to the Minnesota Legislature in 2017, there is a shortfall of 9,363 spaces needed for child care for the estimated amount of children under 6 years old with both parents working. One of the major struggles and realities for child care centers is the factor of finding enough qualified staff for their centers. Early learning programs need significantly more staff than other settings, and those staff require more professional development and ongoing training. The additional qualifications, however, do not add up to higher wages. The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment estimates the average salary of a Minnesota child care worker is $10.81 per hour. This is in large part due to the strict regulations from the state in order to be a licensed center when it comes to staffing.

Aside from the strict qualifications in order to work at the center there is also strict regulations Another example for high costs of payroll expenses is because employers with a certain amount of employees must pay for things like healthcare. A reality that St. James has is that all employees at the Center are part of the St. James School District which means that asides from healthcare their employees are also eligible for things like pension plans. One of the challenges that Sue Harris explained for child care centers like the one at Armstrong and others is that the state has very strict regulations that must be followed. She explained that during the process of adding more kids to their childcare center it took about one year due to the renovations and the things that needed to be added and changed.

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