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    Dr. Donald Gross

    Dr. Donald Gross,
    Sandyston-Walpack Consolidated School District, Layton
    Dr. Judith DeStefano-Anen
    Dr. Judith DeStefano-Anen, Superintendent
    Stafford Township School District, Manahawkin
    Reaching Out; Staying Afloat
    When we hear the term “shared-services,” we automatically think of shared personnel, shared materials, and shared resources and for many of us the sharing is often conducted between public and private entities. In the past, we might reach out to organizations with more resources and form a sort of “partnership” that would allow each separate entity to benefit from the arrangement. More recently the sharing is being conducted between public entities and it is more likely referred to as a “bartering system” wherein each entity gives and then receives and the benefit is more defined and certainly more concrete. However, if we are to get the best from the arrangement then perhaps we should look at the business world where sharing services is defined more simply as “a way of organizing administrative functions to optimize the delivery of cost-effective, flexible, reliable services to all “customers.” (1)  The specific differences between decentralized, standardized, centralized, and shared services are often ignored and as such the services are seen as one and the same. However, any authentic shared services agreement would have these characteristics:

    *  Separate organizations linked to customers through oversight

    * Managed service delivery with clear service level agreements

    *  Customer driven agreements

    * Performance driven culture assessed by measurement and feedback

    *  Process ownership end to end


    From our perspective, since both of our districts have been involved in a variety of different shared service projects, the effort and time exerted on finding ways to share services has certainly been time well spent. Sandyston-Walpack as part of a consortium with three other elementary school districts regularly share information, services, and staff to optimize our efficiencies as well as our effectiveness. For example, the consortium has a part-time curriculum consultant who works with all four districts and the receiving high school district to ensure instructional consistencies. The Stafford Township School District is the largest of the four districts that send to Southern Regional School District also shares training opportunities, personnel, and resources. Much of our experience with shared services has been within the confines of our collective consortia.  However, we knew that as a result of technology, distance no longer had to define our outreach opportunities and so we began talking about how we might be able to expand our shared services arrangements and begin working together again.


    After much discussion that led us to agree that our opportunities were limited only by our own way of thinking, we began focusing more on what was possible instead of deliberating on the challenges involved. We first acknowledged that the system of education is actually a closed system and that good ideas, although often discussed in generalities, are not readily shared.This would be the same for sharing services; it is frequently talked about but rarely acted upon.Whether there is a fear of losing one’s identity, becoming one of many and not being able to stand out, or concerns about others stealing ideas and making them better than they originally were, or even fear of having others negatively critique district-specific procedures or practices, there often is a definite hesitance to participate in real sharing. We had to first examine our own biases, share them, put them aside in order to be able to move forward, and discover ways to help one another.


    The solutions seemed simple enough. Why not use what business, industry, and educational organizations have used for decades and begin with simple networking. Effective business networking “is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another.” (2)It is the old fashion way of doing business. We had worked successfully together before so we had already developed trust and our personal connections allowed us to promote each other’s success. We began identifying what each district might do to help the other.Again, this would be limited only by our own minds.
    Sandyston-Walpack is a very small school district (150 students; 30 total staff); Stafford Township is a very large district (2600 students; 300 staff). What could a small district do to help a larger one? At the very least, it was certainly easier to gather input from staff at each grade level; to gain insight into how practices and procedures and even mandates would need to be modified to ensure their success with a smaller, cross-section of teaching staff. Not only could ideas could be more easily shared, different ways of doing things could be broached, and more “piloting” of ideas could be conducted to obtain necessary data. More importantly, although the larger district had more personnel and more resources, the smaller district had more time available for researching, for implementing, and for reporting progress. Most importantly, because smaller districts are often forced to conserve resources and make the most of very little, in these times of financial constraints and diminishing funds, the larger district could benefit from their financial experiences.
    Once we recognized and accepted that shared services could be more than shared “stuff” and could also be shared ideas and shared experiences, we realized that it was our differences not our similarities that would provide us with the expected benefits. As such, we initially came up with the following areas that could become “shared services” from which both districts could benefit:
    • Educational Services which would include grant writing and professional development opportunities, and the sharing of our individual expertise with previous challenges and or obstacles.
    • Facilities and Maintenance which would include the purchasing of products and or services, and which ones were as reliable as they were cost effective.
    • Budget preparation and what techniques were implemented to ensure the development of budgets based on current need while preparing for the possibilities of the future.
    • Personnel, observation, and evaluation systems through the sharing of what was being learned about different assessments systems and the technology platforms on which they would need to operate.
    • Public Relations and how technology via building a website, the use of social media, and print matter could be utilized to support and celebrate district initiatives.
    Once we realized that sharing services involved sharing ideas and experiences as well as sharing resources, we were well on our way to ensuring that our efforts provided providing benefit to each other’s districts. Over time, we have continued to discuss how we could refine our thinking, to identify ways to reach out to not only our consortium partners but to other districts willing to take the time to share as well, we knew we might be on our way to identify specific guidelines and or characteristics for shared services agreements between school districts.  We are thinking that they may become something like the following:
    • A willingness to share specific experiences with other districts that identify failures as well as successes.
    • An ability to devote the needed time to sharing allowing the partnering district to give as much as is received.
    • The capability of accepting differences without judgment and the capacity to celebrate the same.
    • A desire to help other districts become more successful as well as more efficient
      While there is no reason to believe that functioning in the educational community will become easier in the future, there is reason to hope that networking and sharing services can help us all to better navigate the excessive limitations being put on school resources and the expanded expectations of responsibility being placed on school personnel. As simplistic as this may sound, perhaps shared services that include the sharing of ideas and experiences, as well as, the sharing of resources may in fact be the only way we can all get by.  Not only will we keep our noses above water, but we will keep afloat!



    1.                  Regents of the University of Michigan (2012).  Administrative Services Transformation from http://ast.umich.edu/pdfs/What-is-shared-services-102811.pdf


    2.                  Speisman, Stephanie (2012).  From her booklet "99 Tips for Successful Business Networking." Contact info: (301)469-8015, successcoach@erols.com, www.strategiesforchange.com.


    3.                  For more information on the specifics of what we have done together, please feel free to contact either author.