In a town where finding affordable child care is a challenge, school trustees have found a way to offer an opportunity to teachers: infant and toddler day care during the school year at just under market rate.

Teton County School District No. 1’s Board of Trustees approved a contract with a child care provider at its August meeting.

The one-year contract with Alifer LLC, which operates Tiny Hands Learning Center, will allow the school district to offer infant and toddler child care to its employees. The program, set to start Aug. 27, will be called TCSD Cubs.

The benefit is intended to alleviate the stress and financial burden of finding high-quality, affordable, convenient care that is compatible with the school calendar, the contract reads.

“As someone who is deeply involved in early childhood education in Teton County, I realize the difficulty of finding care for children, particularly infants and children less than the age of 2,” Trustee Betsy Carlin said. “I see this as a benefit for the entire community because it will serve the families who are Teton County schools’ staff and it will open up spaces in other infant and toddler centers throughout the community.”

The 10-month schedule that aligns with the school calendar, holidays and breaks caters to educators, she said.

For $55,000 per school year the contractor will provide daily oversight, support, curriculum, planning and communication with parents and ensure all state guidelines are followed, providing a safe, affordable and caring environment.

“I think it’s really great that we’re able to do this,” Trustee Janine Teske said in the meeting. “At this rate it makes me gulp because I still think it’s a lot of money, but I think this is a really good opportunity for our employees.”

The child care service is located on the east part of Jackson Elementary School’s campus in two refurbished modulars formerly used by the Children’s Learning Center. It already has signed up seven infants age 12 months and younger at a cost of $70 a day and four toddlers between 13 and 36 months at a cost of $60 a day.

TCSD Cubs has space for 12 infants and 24 toddlers.

The district said the offering was cost neutral because staffers have to pay for the day care.

“The idea is that it’s maybe a little bit less than if you were putting your infant in some other community program, assuming you could find space, which is the big issue,” information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said. “But it’s not cheap by any means. So the idea is that the employee-paid tuition rate covers the program costs.”

The district is responsible for maintaining the facilities and hiring staff, three so far.

The offering comes at a time when school district employee benefits are being reduced.

In June the school board approved a compensation package for this fiscal year that included roughly $675,000 in cuts. The board found some savings by reducing paid parental leave from 10 to five days of maternity or paternity leave in addition to the federally mandated Family and Medical Leave Act, which stipulates that employers offer their employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child.

Chairwoman Kate Mead remembered the days when her children were young. It was a struggle, she said, to find care for them during the workday.

“For years and years there was no day care,” she said. “It was lining up and begging people to take care of your children.”

The district reached out to families to let them know about the opportunity. There’s no waiting list — at least not yet.

Before the contract was approved Jackson Elementary School first-grade teacher Stephanie Tate and kindergarten teacher Kate Kool expressed their thanks.

“It’s not always easy to live and work in Teton County,” said Tate, who gave birth in February.

Child care, she said, is one of the biggest struggles.

“When my husband and I decided to start a family, that was one of our largest concerns,” Tate said. “So I just wanted to say thank you for recognizing a need.”

Her colleague Kool agreed, saying TCSD Cubs “alleviated so much stress for me” amid long waitlists elsewhere in town.

“We’re really relieved that there’s another option,” Kool said.

A plus of having her child close by, she said, was coming in to nurse during the day.

While the school district wants to make sure its employees are taken care of and can make it work in Teton County, Mead acknowledged another motive: getting quality educators in front of students again after they have a child.

“We want our great teachers to go back to the classroom,” she said.

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, schools@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGschools.

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