LOS LUNAS — Los Lunas Schools recently became one of the few school districts across the state to open a day care center specifically for the children of district employees.
“I always had a dream that Los Lunas Schools childcare could expand,” said Deborah McLain, director of Kiddie Cat’s Daycare. “It’s always been something that’s been in the back of my mind — that there’s more potential to help families in the area with childcare.”
Kiddie Cat’s Daycare, named endearingly after the district mascots, opened Aug. 1 in refurbished portable buildings located on the Century High School campus.
While still in its infancy, the day care is equipped to care for children ranging from 6 weeks to 3 years of age.
LLS Chief Student Services Officer Susan Chavez said the inspiration behind Kiddie Cat’s came from visiting other school districts last year.
“We visited Shining Star Preschool in Rio Rancho and during our visit our tour guide talked about the day care they have for employee’s kids,” said Chavez. “I started asking questions to see how we could possibly bring something like that to Los Lunas Schools because it’s definitely a nice benefit.”
Last year, Santa Fe Public Schools also opened a day care for employees with the cost ranging from $150 to $250 per month. Chavez said the cost for LLS employees is $800 a month.
“Rio Rancho charges more than we do, and we charge a little more than some day cares in the area, but we pay our day care staff more than most of the other day cares,” said Chavez.
If the parent qualifies for state child care assistance, Chavez said they can also use it, which would cover the monthly cost of tuition.
According to the New Mexico Early Childhood and Education Department’s website, the child care assistance program subsidizes the cost of child care for families at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty level that are working, in school or searching for employment.
In April, LLS sent out a staff survey to gauge interest in a day care dedicated to LLS employees. A total of 168 staff members completed the survey and 60 percent responded they were interested in utilizing day care service provided by the district. Forty percent said they were not interested, but many of these respondents also answered they do not have children who require day care.
“There’s a wait list at the majority of the day care programs here in Los Lunas, so there is that need for support in the community,” said Chavez. “We wanted to provide that support to our employees so they wouldn’t have that additional stress of finding a day care, especially our employees who are new to the community and might not have family that are able to help with their young children.”
Chavez said the initial startup cost was about $75,000, which mainly came from the district’s operating budget. This went toward renovating portables to meet the required standards and buying all the initial materials, such as new furniture, supplies and toys.
Once they are at full capacity, Chavez said the monthly tuition should be self-sustaining to run the daycare.
What’s also nice about Kiddie Cat’s Daycare is that it’s centrally located and the curriculum will support the children’s transition to the district’s new three-year-old program and eventually into their pre-k program, Chavez said.
“We saw a lot of interest with a number of employees who have 3 year olds so we applied and were granted that program,” she said. “The majority of students in that program are employee kids and there’s no charge for that through the New Mexico pre-k grant, so we’re also able to support our staff that way.”
Currently, McLain said there are five employees at the daycare including herself. She has been with the district since 2008 and began working as the daycare director in June after being approached with the opportunity. Prior to Kiddie Cat’s, McLain was the district’s before-and-after school director.
McLain said Kiddie Cat’s will have a ratio of one teacher to six students. While they are only caring for four children right now, Chavez said they anticipate more being enrolled in January. The daycare has room for up to 12 children in the infant and 1-year-old room and up to 12 in the 2 and 3 year old room.
“It’s important that our employees have somewhere they feel their child is taken care of and that their child is going to learn and grow before school age,” said McLain. “We have a great staff who are experienced in childcare, and it’s exciting to be able to fill that gap of childcare that’s needed in our community.”
Marlisah Kerbs, a LLS employee who has a 1 year old attending the daycare, said she has had an overall positive experience at Kiddie Cat’s Daycare.
“It’s nice knowing they’re going to be open the days I need them to, and my kid is going to have a spot because it’s for staff of the district,” said Kerbs. “Plus, I know (my child) likes them and likes it there and they’ve been really good at working with me and all the things I want to do.”
Though Kerbs said she does hope the district reconsiders the monthly cost.
“Eight hundred dollars is high, especially in our area. When they initially sent it out, it seemed like it was an incentive to help teachers work in our district who have kiddos or some sort of benefit, so I just assumed that it would be subsidized or a cheaper option for teachers,” said Kerbs. “We stuck with it though and have had a great experience there so far.”
“We want it to be a long-term operation and to improve every year,” said Chavez. “(McLain) has done an amazing job and I also want to thank everybody that came together to make this a possibility.”
Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.