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Playing Up to Success : Beleaguered Child-Care Cooperative of Employers Has Waiting List, Money in Bank

April 06, 1989|ESTHER SCHRADER | Times Staff Writer

Just over a year ago, a pioneering child-care cooperative sponsored by five of the largest employers in Glendale seemed to have run aground.

Its founding corporation, Glendale Federal Savings, and its management, the Glendale Unified School District, had both given up on the venture and pulled out. Parents of the children who remained were meeting frantically at night trying to salvage an organization stricken by rising debt, low enrollment and sagging morale.

Today, the consortium is afloat again. Its members say the recovery was due to their willingness to accept and support a less radical form of employee-sponsored day care than originally envisioned.

The day-care center is smaller. Most of the parents with children there do not work for the employers who founded it. And it is run not by its members but by a profit-making child-care company from Irvine.

Sponsored by Workers

It is still the only employer-sponsored child-care program in Glendale and only one of two programs to offer care for infants in the city. It has become a recruiting tool for the employers who remain its members. In an area desperate for child care and an era when most employers do not share their employees' child-care burden, it has succeeded, its founders say, by surviving at all.

"This is like Part II," said Doris Roth, the director of the center. "We're operating in the black; we have full enrollment; we have a stable curriculum, and our environment is pretty well set."

The four classrooms and spacious courtyard, rented from Glendale United Methodist Church on North Central Avenue, are full, and there is a list of more than 20 parents waiting to get their children in. Toddlers in the program play with bright-colored blocks, climb on fanciful playground equipment and peer through giant tubes at a spacious, grassy yard. Inside, groups of preschoolers listen to stories, and babies sleep peacefully in cribs in a shaded room.

Parents employed by consortium members are given priority on the program's waiting list and discounts on tuition. City employees help keep the grounds clean. Members also donated the materials to build a climbing structure for the playground.

Beth Gardner, the consortium board's president and director of nursing services at Verdugo Hills Hospital, said at least eight nurses hired there in the past six months have said they took their jobs largely because of the opportunity for child care. Gardner said she plans to expand the program to include after-school care.

The program is run by the professional firm, which has been granted virtual autonomy by the consortium board. At first, there was much talk of recruiting other employers to join the consortium, but it has virtually stopped. And in outward appearance and manner of teaching, the program looks like any other child-care center.

The hybrid of cooperative and for-profit child care was developed out of necessity.

The consortium was founded in 1986 on the initiative of officials at Glendale Federal. It began as a joint effort of the thrift, the school district, the city of Glendale and two hospitals. The aim was to provide high-quality day care at competitive rates for the children of their employees. The model was a program in Burbank.

In its first year, the consortium quickly racked up debts. Under the initial agreement worked out between its founders, the program was to be managed by the school district, with its other members providing start-up money and in-kind services.

From the start, the center was envisioned as a money-making enterprise. It was managed in the first year by the school district, with the other members providing start-up money and services.

But only two employees at Glendale Federal, the largest private employer in the group, enrolled their children, and the numbers of its other employer-members were not much higher. By December, 1987, the center was under-enrolled by 38 children and was running a $60,000 deficit.

Worse, parents said, the exciting idea seemed to be falling apart. What they has thought would be a solution was turning into a problem.

In late 1987 Glendale Federal pulled out. The school district followed a few months later. Its remaining members scrambled to find a new operator for the program, finally settling on 5-year-old National Pediatric Support Services.

National Pediatrics cut janitorial and cooking staff at the center and decreased the number of children served from 90 to 65. Fees were increased by about $5 a week. The consortium board today pays the company to manage the program and is able to bank about $1,000 a month in profits, building a fund for expansion.

Today, the program is healthy, and director Roth said that is reason enough to be proud of it.

"We've filled up since we opened our doors," she said. "There is a crying need for child care in this city, and we are doing a little bit to help fill it."

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