Cabinet Corner: Shared Services

Shared Services is pretty much the epitome of what it means to work for Oakland Schools.

The whole purpose of the division is to provide assistance to school districts in Oakland County who may need help establishing internal controls, efficiencies or simply running the day-to-day operations of a business office.

“Local districts right now are facing a lot of hardships when it comes to fulfilling the business office functions with the tightening of budgets,” explained Cyndi Willoughby, executive director of Shared Services.

What exactly is a business office responsible for? According to Willoughby, they typically oversee functions such as accounting, payroll, procurement and, in some circumstances, human resources.

logo-2Currently, Shared Services has long-term contracts with Pontiac, Hazel Park, Clawson, Avondale and Clarenceville school districts. A staff of 18 Oakland Schools’ employees currently fulfills these various roles. Although Oakland Schools Information Technology has always provided shared services to districts, the first long-term contract was created in 2013 when the School District of the City of Pontiac had to sign a consent agreement with the Michigan Department of Treasury to return stability and accountability during its financial crisis. Oakland Schools Shared Services was tapped by the district to provide that much-needed assistance.

In addition to the long-term assignments, there are often requests for short-term fill-ins, say if an employee goes on maternity leave or is out sick for more than a couple days.

For those situations, Willoughby uses a list of about 10 people, mostly retirees or current Oakland Schools employees, who are willing or able to do those short-term assignments.

Willoughby said being a Shared Services employee requires a special tact in working with the school districts as our personnel are often coming in to engage with others who may approach the assignment differently. However, she said she has only received positive reviews, as the districts are usually grateful for the extra help.

“I think the districts appreciate it because we bring in a different expertise and knowledge,” she said.

In fact, because of its partnership with Oakland Schools, Pontiac Schools has been able to reduce its deficit from $52 million to $23 million.

“That is what Oakland Schools stands for,” said Willoughby. “It’s what our belief is – that we assist our districts. That’s our purpose.”

Sarah Davis is a communications specialist with Oakland Schools. You can reach her at sarah.davis@oakland.k12.mi.us.

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