This letter was sent to Vermont Governor Phil Scott.
Dear Governor Scott:
The Neck of the Woods (NOW) child care center in Waitsfield recently received welcome news. The long-awaited state permit to construct the required public water system is finally in hand. This permit will allow for construction to begin on the water system as soon as the public comment period expires and construction materials have been received, which should be about eight weeks from today. We are ecstatic that the founder’s vision is one step closer to reality and beyond grateful to all who have and continue to persevere in the interest of children and parents. Given the current child care crisis, it is truly a shame that this process has taken so long and been so expensive.
NOW moved into the former Small Dog Electronics building in the spring of 2020. With loans and grants, it purchased the 10,000-square-foot building and 11-acre campus along the beautiful Mad River Path in January 2021. The project mission of NOW is to serve up to 125 children with high quality child care services. Unfortunately, the federal government requires child care programs having more than 18 children and six staff (per state guidelines for student/staff ratios) be served by a public water system” without regard to quality of the already available well water. This is an enormous challenge in a rural community. The child care industry refers to this as “the 19th child” problem.
Despite knowing that it would cost roughly $100,000 to install a public water system, the founders of NOW believed so deeply in the need for adequate child care, that the investment was not a barrier but rather a starting line. Staff pivoted as needed through COVID, requested and received necessary variances, met with design engineers and state regulators and endured off-site rent expense for programming when special occupancy variances (allowing more than 18 children) were discontinued. By renting other space in The Valley, NOW has been able to continue to offer child care to parents who might otherwise be left unable to go to work without the needed care.
As you know, most child care programs are nonprofit. Staff of small child care programs are given meager pay with little to no benefits. The cost to reach that 19th child is too high an amount to expect most child care programs to afford. When most child care programs see that price tag, they don’t give it a second thought as it is viewed as an impossibility.
Serving more than 18 children is the only way NOW can change the status quo and pay child care workers a living wage. Serving more children provides more parents with an opportunity to work, makes it possible to provide more scholarships to those in need and allows NOW to compensate workers with a fair wage.
Child care professionals should not need to jump through these hoops and face such permitting obstacles given the current national crisis. The state and the federal government need to re-examine hurdles to making more child care available, including obtaining clean, healthy drinking water from available sources. Ironically, NOW will still need to provide bottled water for drinking, as the water produced by the new “public water system” is expected to have an unpleasant taste.
Our child care workers are already doing the good work of educating the next generation of leaders. Let them do what they are trained to do.
Linda Levin, Fayston
NOW board member.