PITTSBURG, Kan. — Pittsburg Community Schools and the Family Resource Center formalized a partnership Tuesday to actively find ways to expand early childhood learning and childcare options in the Pittsburg area.

The Center’s board spoke with the Pittsburg school board at its regular meeting about the importance of having those early education opportunities and the lack of them in the Pittsburg area.

“Our waiting list for infants and toddlers usually runs between 58 and 64 for each,” said Ann Elliot, the executive director of the Center. “It’s that same way in the whole community, so it’s not just a Center issue, it’s a community issue.”

The Center currently serves 298 children on a full-time or part-time basis and has been around since 1992. It provides childcare starting at two weeks old and pre-K for three and four-year olds. Pittsburg Mayor Dawn McNay is the president of the Center’s board and said that since it opened the Center has been operating with a waiting list.

“We maxed out at our capacity pretty much right away,” McNay said.

Assistant Superintendent Brad Hanson said he knew how important getting kids into the classroom early was.

“In our Kindergarten class of last year out of our 240 kindergarten students, we had 70 that had no preschool experience,” he said. “We’ve got more than a quarter of our students have no school experience when they walk into kindergarten.”

Hanson added that of those kids who didn’t attend preschool, 95 percent of them were eligible for free and reduced lunch.

“These are kids that already have some strikes against them to begin with,” he said. “And we’re not meeting those needs.”

Superintendent Rich Proffitt chimed in noting that when kids get behind early it can have lasting effects on their education.

“The earlier you can make an investment in education with kids, the less you’re going have to invest in interventions in the later years, because the gap some of the kids start in kindergarten with only grows wider as time goes on,” Proffitt said. “Research, and this is scary research, will show that if you are not reading on grade level by the time you exit third grade, there's a lot of things in life that are against you. There are higher rates of imprisonment, there’s higher rates of being unemployed.”

However, Kari Cronister, a Preschool Supervising Teacher from the Little Gorillas preschool at Pittsburg State University, who also attended the meeting, said access isn't the only issue, it’s emphasizing how important early education is.

“A lot of time parents don’t think their children need preschool,” she said. “So, a big component too I feel like is reaching the parents in our district.”

The two groups then floated ideas of what could be done to help fix this problem and almost immediately agreed that more space was needed.

The Center had a rough blueprint created of a possible building to either be connected to its existing operation at 16th and Walnut by using the Center’s large parking lot, or by buying a building across the street from the center. It would a building completely dedicated to pre-K. If the funding can be obtained, the new addition would have 12 classrooms with a capacity for classes of 20 students with morning and afternoon groups for a total of 40 students per classroom each day.

While both entities would love to be able to fund such a project, neither are in a financial position to do so. The Center is completely funded by grants and the school district does not have a lot of wiggle room in its budget.

“Even though we may be the biggest educational entity in the area, we also still have finite resources and we also have to be very careful with those finite resources because there are certain things because of state statues that we can spend it on and other ways that we cannot,” Proffit said.

The school district promises to help in any way it can and will be involved in the process of whatever comes next as they own the building the center is run out of. However, as of right now Proffitt said they don’t know what, if any, money the school district will be able to contribute. He said they really are going to have to turn to the community and ask them for help to make this a reality.

“I have not been in Pittsburg for very long, but I’ve seen that there are a lot of people that know that there’s a need,” Proffitt said. “We are only smaller pieces of a much larger puzzle.”