Only one of the 10 leading employers in Lawrence, which together have a combined work force of nearly 10,000, offers on-site child care for employees.
Kansas University has a child-care facility for employees and students, but Hilltop Child Development Center has a 215-child waiting list.
"I'm not aware of a single community that is meeting its child-care needs. I'm not aware of a single university that is coming close," said Ed Meyen, a top KU official.
Nationally, on-site child care is becoming more popular. In 1979, 110 U.S. companies offered on-site child care. More than 4,500 companies offer on-site child care in 1989.
Reasons on-site child care hasn't caught on in Lawrence surfaced during interviews with officials from the 10 companies. They are: On-site child care programs are too expensive, legal liability problems could devastate a company and parents prefer less-expensive child-care options.
GAIL DAVIS, director of the non-profit Children's Learning Center Inc., 331 Maine, said it makes good business sense for employers to participate in child care.
"I think employers, especially profit-making employers, need to look at it more than they have," she said. "It's a worthy investment."
Gary Toebben, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said local companies don't offer child care because of cost and liability concerns.
"The challenge for a corporation is to determine how valuable it is to their employees and how much of the company's resources they're willing to invest," he said.
At KU, the 4,600 employees compete for 150 spaces at Hilltop and a limited number of spaces in research programs at KU's Dole Human Development Center.
"Day care is a major recruiting tool," said Tom McDonald, professor of social welfare. "Some faculty come here and are disappointed to find out there are limited slots."
JOAN REIBER, director of Hilltop, said she would like to expand Hilltop into a vacant KU residence hall and add 99 additional spaces for children.
"The basement of JRP would be a perfect site for day care," she said. "Without more space our waiting list will continue to grow and we will have many unhappy parents affiliated with KU."
As KU's executive vice chancellor, Meyen said he would order development of a 15-year master plan for dealing with KU's diverse child-care needs.
"It's not just traditional child care. People are working here 24 hours a day. We need before school, after school, preschool programs," he said.
The Lawrence school district is the largest employer in the city without on-site child care. About 1,075 people work for the district.
Bob Taylor, the district's assistant superintendent, said on-site child care isn't in the cards. It was tried once in the district. A program at New York School was a failure, he said.
"IT DIDN'T go well because the parents didn't pay their bills and it was disbanded," he said.
Hallmark Cards Inc. has 1,000 employees and no on-site child-care facility.
"Most of our people use relatives or friends because it's more economical," said Bill Glover, Hallmark's human resources manager.
Robert Ohlen, executive director of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said a 1981 survey indicated hospital employees preferred in-home day care. The hospital's current 575 employees haven't been surveyed.
Cost would be the biggest obstacle to an on-site program at LMH because a child-care facility would have to be constructed, he said.
The Sallie Mae loan service center has 545 employees, said Elaine Nelson, assistant vice president of operations. The company allows employees to place a pretax portion of their paycheck in a child-care fund. Sallie Mae matches up to $750 a year.
MARTHA Engnehl, personnel manager at K mart's distribution center, said the company offers its 540 workers a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent if their children enroll at selected major child-care providers.
The city of Lawrence, with about 510 employees, explored the possibility of a joint venture with a child-care center but nothing came of those talks.
"At this point, we don't provide child care as a benefit and we don't anticipate it. Like most things, it boils down to money," said Mike Wildgen, city manager.
Packer Plastics, which has about 500 employees, considered on-site child care. That idea was nixed based on an employee survey.
"We were particularly interested in the midnight shift," said Eric Walther, director of benefits. "The people there already had child care in place and they didn't want to change. At that point, we needed a firm commitment from our employees."
ANN ROGGERO, manager of human resources at Allied-Signal Aerospace Co.-Bendix King, said the company is considering offering child-care subsidies to its 470 employees.
The 415 employees of the Dillons supermarkets in Lawrence don't have on-site day care either.
"We recognize it as a working trend, but we haven't made any definite plans or commitments," said spokesman Ken Keefer.