Shared Services: Efficient Operations to Support Quality Education

A creative model is helping to address key challenges for early childhood providers. Shared Services MA helps early childhood education centers and family child care businesses – small programs run out of the provider’s home – unite and pool resources to save time and money and focus on what really matters: delivering quality early childhood education. Shared Services is a management approach to address the financial challenges associated with running early childhood education programs: razor thin margins, significant personnel costs because of high staff to child ratios and insufficient state reimbursement rates for low-income families. 

 

The Shared Services advantage

There are 32 Shared Services alliances across the country. Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health is a lead funder of metro Boston’s Shared Service alliance. With these funds, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay supports the Boston Early Childhood Shared Services Alliance which includes eight early childhood programs in Boston. Alliance members receive access to a national Shared Services online platform that houses over 1800 early childhood resources and tools, including savings and discounts, business administration, family engagement, and curriculum development. United Way also funds individual coaching on website tools and business practices including recordkeeping, budgeting and marketing. Service benefits also include a connection to a property management company that provides discounts and services related to building maintenance. Lastly, the model includes facilitated opportunities for providers to come together to share strengths and challenges.

 

In addition, Collaboration for Community Health funding supports: 

  • Delivery of a course on small business innovation through University of Massachusetts-Boston that reaches 40 family and small-center providers each year.
  • Designing a system of automation that would serve as an administrative “hub” for bookkeeping, billing, fee collection, marketing and enrollment management for family child care systems such as Project Hope.
  • Individual coaching for early childhood leaders to build a business mindset utilizing Shared Services metrics as they relate to business operations: full enrollment, tuition paid on time and in full and revenues covering costs. 
  • Collaboration with Urban College to share tools with students who are entering the early childhood workforce and their professors with the goal of making the Shared Services web platform a “go-to tool” for early childhood professionals. 
  • Initiation of an “Earn While You Learn” program where University of Massachusetts-Boston students are paid as substitute teachers while attending school. This benefits students by giving them experience, and early childhood programs by addressing the workforce crisis through the creation of a pipeline of experienced teachers. 

 

Outcomes

 

The funding from the Collaboration will allow the United Way to track a range of outcomes, including: Alliance membership and retention, member savings of time and money on Shared Services resources and the use of business protocols learned in the Small Business Innovation Course, all in an effort to strengthen early childhood businesses to increase access and affordability and retain staff.

 

United Way is seeing early successes with Shared Services. One center saved $9,000 on electricity over three years and consistently utilizes trusted plumbers, masons, electricians, and painters.

 

Melinda Weber, program director for Shared Services, says “I love seeing the transformation when providers see themselves as business leaders. For example, when they have the realization, depending on the program type and age of the child, ‘If I had 3 more children, I could increase my available funds by $2,100 to $4,200 every month and with those funds I could improve my program!’” Ms. Weber adds that, in addition to improving business practices, Shared Services takes the isolation out of this work for early education professionals, and “that leads to children having teachers who are supported, doing their jobs well, and delivering consistently high-quality education and care.”