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Imagine using your morning bagel break to read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" to your child's class at school. Or kissing your daughter's knee five minutes after she scraped it on a slide into home during gym class.

Without leaving your employer's property.

Satellite learning centers, sometimes called partnership schools, can make these possibilities a reality.

Satellite learning centers are free public schools on company property that generally serve the children of the company's employees. An SLC is a joint venture between a public school system and a private employer.

The public school system supplies the teachers, curriculum and books, while the sponsoring employer supplies the space and pays for utilities and maintenance.

SLCs are "the best-kept secret in the country," said Mary Anne Ward, president of Schools At Work, a consulting firm in Windermere, Fla., that helps companies develop onsite public schools.

Ms. Ward said interest is growing among employers in forming SLCs. She estimated there are 30 to 45 SLCs in the country. "It seems like we are always hearing about another one," she said.

Several of the SLCs are in Florida, which offers sponsoring companies a property tax exemption for the physical space taken up by the school. Experts did not know of any other states that offer tax breaks for SLC sponsors.

Bob Lurie, chairman of CorporateFamily Solutions, a work/

family consultant based in Nashville, Tenn., agreed that "there is growing interest on the part of corporations" in SLCs.

"The logic of it is no different than a workplace child care center," he said.

Yet SLCs cost just a fraction of what it takes to run a child care center since the school district picks up the payroll and supply costs, Ms. Ward noted.

Numerous benefits are associated with an SLC, proponents of the arrangement say.

For example, workers who send their children to their company's SLC can commute to work with their children and are just aminute or so away in case of an emergency.

These conveniences result in decreased absenteeism and tardiness for employees-which in turn saves companies money, Ms. Ward noted.

"These are dollars that can be validated after the school's built," she stated.

For example, at American Bankers Insurance Group in Miami, absenteeism is down 50% and turnover is down 10% since the company formed the country's first SLC in 1987, Ms. Ward said.

Cutting down employee turnover is particularly important because it can be so costly.

At Orlando Regional Healthcare System, it costs about $17,000 to replace a clinical employee and about $8,700 to replace a non-clinical employee, according to Ellen McLatchey, manager of home/work life.

Yet the company, which has 5,000 employees in a downtown Orlando campus, budgets only $39,000 annually for its year-old SLC. That budget exceeds the company's actual costs, Ms. McLatchey added.

The budget covers renting portable trailers that house the school, utilities, telephone, custodial services, landscaping and other miscellaneous costs.

If the SLC helps retain two clinical employees that otherwise might have left, it has paid for itself in a year, she said.

"We also think it gives us a competitive advantage" over the other three hospitals in central Florida, she added.

Orlando Regional Healthcare System spent about $137,000 on start-up costs related to the SLC, such as design fees, landscaping, building a playground and establishing utility and telephone hookups for the portable trailers.

"We're very committed as an organization to helping our employees balance their home and work life," Ms. McLatchey said. Because 75% of the hospital group's employees are women, "there is a very strong sensitivity to the needs of working women."

Forming an SLC "just made so much sense" because there was a "relatively low cost projection and also low maintenance once you get it up and moving," she continued.

The Orlando Regional Healthcare System school started with 58 children in kindergarten and first grade. The school will add second grade for the coming school year. The school is open only to children of employees of the hospital group, and slots are filled by lottery if registration exceeds capacity.

Although the hospital group does not have its own child care facility, a local YMCA offers child care at the SLC before and after school hours.

Many of the SLCs offer onsite before- and after-school child care, often coordinated with a local YMCA.

For example, when school ends at 2 p.m. at Minneapolis-based Dayton Hudson Corp.'s Mill City Montessori school, the local YMCA offers onsite child care on the first floor of the school until 6 p.m.

At American Bankers Insurance Group, the company offers onsite before- and after-school care at its SLC all days the school is open and an all-day camp when the school is closed but the company is open, according to Pat Brack, assistant principal of the school. The school has 215 children from kindergarten through fifth grade.

And at the school offered by Jacksonville, Fla.-based Barnett Banks Inc., CorporateFamily Solutions runs before-and after-school child care.

SLCs are not just for big companies, Ms. Ward noted.

In Des Moines, Iowa, about 20 companies joined forces nearly four years ago to launch a SLC in the downtown area.

"The Downtown School" has several sites scattered in different downtown office buildings, all of which are connected by skywalks. The original site of the SLC, which began offering classes in August 1993, is at the offices of sponsor Principal Financial Group. Other Des Moines companies involved in the effort include Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., US West Inc., Midamerican Energy Holdings Co., Bankers Trust Co., Firstar Bank Iowa N.A. and the Des Moines Register.

These and other sponsoring companies donate space for classrooms and cash to support the school. The money covers parking for teachers, teacher pay for a longer school year than the district normally has, and extra teachers so classes will have a lower student-to-teacher ratio than they otherwise would, according to Jan Drees, director of the school.

The Downtown School this fall will educate 112 children in kindergarten through second grade. It is open to all children in the Des Moines area, and employees of sponsoring companies do not get preference, Ms. Drees said.

"Des Moines as a community is working on diversity," so the school attempts to mirror in its student population the makeup of the population in the area, she said. For example, the school is trying to have students from low-income families make up 40% and minorities make up 27% of its student body, she said.

The school plans to expand over several years to cover kindergarten through fifth grade.