A local educator proposed making School 4 into a child day care center to the Dunkirk Board of Education.
Beth Starks told the board, “Your city has a great need for child care. I assume you probably know this already, that there’s no child care in Dunkirk.”
Starks just took over leadership of Jamestown Community College’s North County Extension Center in the town of Dunkirk. She was previously head of the early childhood education program at JCC, belongs to two boards that advise Gov. Andrew Cuomo on early childhood education matters and has also done consultant work for the Dunkirk school district.
She was invited to present her School 4 proposal to the board by Superintendent Mike Mansfield. “We have had a significant interest in that building in terms of people that can see uses for children in that building,” he said.
School 4 was left out of the Dunkirk district’s recent realignment of where students go to school. Starks said, “You have a building that will be vacant and obviously you don’t want to incur cost.”
She said a child care center would help two generations, “so there’s a bigger return on investment.” With child care highly important to the workforce, she said it would make Dunkirk a more attractive place for young parents to live and work.
In addition, Starks said there is plenty of state and federal funding available for such an endeavor.
“For the first time in my career… there’s actually money for child care in New York state,” she said. In addition to increased state funding, she said around $2.2 billion has been earmarked for New York state child care in the federal government’s latest COVID-19 related aid package.
Starks said there are no licensed child care centers in the city, but three family homes are licensed to do on-site care for up to five children a day, while two others are classified as “group homes,” meaning they can care for up to 10 kids a day. Head Start and Early Head Start are also options but only very low-income families are eligible for those, she added.
Some of the groundwork for a city child care center has already been completed, she said. For example, the city of Dunkirk’s comprehensive plan identifies child care as a major need in the city — a move that will make a child care center much more likely to get grants.
Starks has already scouted some sites, but said that is her biggest obstacle. “I literally went with the Planning Department to every vacant lot in Dunkirk,” she said. However, none of the sites would pass state regulations and-or provide enough space.
School 4 would satisfy the regulatory and size hurdles, she said, leaving open the possibility that the center would only take one floor and the district could rent out the rest of the space. “We could do any model that you would entertain,” she said, adding that it would make sense to get help from Chautauqua Opportunities and SUNY Fredonia, as they already partner with the school district on child care.
Starks’ presentation was introductory in nature and looked at the big picture. It offered no details on how much a child care center could cost. It didn’t look at staffing levels, administration, the exact age range of children it would take or when it would start. The Board of Education made no decision on the proposal and members had nothing to say about it.
“There are a lot of options and I just wanted to present this opportunity to your district,” Starks said.
One thing is certain, she asserted: “Not having any centers in the whole city, it’s a big deal.”