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May 14-16, 2008

Reaching New Heights…
2008 Conference In-Review

Don’t we all dream of reaching the mountaintop?

Doesn’t everyone thirst for what we believe will be the apex of accomplishment, an epiphany of glorious sight if only we can reach that new height?

But, it has seemed to us that the feeling of true growth doesn’t come from our reaching the top; it comes from the climb. True fulfillment comes from the decisions we took along the way, the knowledge gained, that proved to be the right steps. And if we took that climb together, we soon realize that as we help each other ascend, we can’t help but to reach the goal ourselves. We make it to the top together.

Well, that seems to be what our Tri-State conferences are all about, working together to achieve that which we have yet to master. As co-chairs, it was a privilege to work with one another, along with the entire committee and each one of you, on that continual climb in professional development that allows us all to reach new heights.

The 2008 conference held at the beautiful Stoweflake Mountain Resort set a tone of relaxed eloquence as the
staff provided our group with exceptional service and classic accommodations. This mountain locale nestled in the quintessential village that is Stowe, offered plenty of comfort while allowing everyone a great opportunity to enjoy the surroundings as well as the sessions. While there certainly was an emphasis on information needed to meet our 403(b) compliance for the upcoming year, the varieties of other offerings were all met with enthusiasm. Workshops were filled to the max and by all accounts, fulfilling to the max as our thirst for the information necessary to perform our duties reaches for that next level.

Wednesday’s session set us off on the right path as we began our climb through the maze of 403(b) regulations with Tamara Middleton, Certified Pension Consultant and Qualified Pension Administrator. Tamara spoke to a full-house as conference attendees eagerly absorbed the nuances of the final regulations set forth by the IRS and learned what our obligations were to be, and in some cases, already were. Tamara gave us her insights into the regulations and the challenges put before us regarding administrative and compliance obligations. Session goers asked the right questions, heard the answers, and pondered next steps as the magnitude of what we needed to get done by January sunk in. After the afternoon session, the atrium was the gathering place for a 403(b) “Open House” with a variety of Tax Shelter Annuity vendors. Conference goers had the opportunity to pickup information, ideas and contacts to enable them to make the right selection and build the support necessary in positioning their district’s retirement solution.

Data was the driver in the other sessions of the day as tools were plentiful in areas of common programs we use everyday as well as quality programs in facility operations. Rick Hutchins poured over Excel shortcuts, pivot tables, and other programs such as PowerPoint, Word and Filemaker Pro. Individual’s interests were piqued as he covered some of the changes and nuances in using Microsoft 2007 programs. Meanwhile, we were fortunate to have Tim Pedrotty of VSBIT’s facility management group fill in at the last moment due to illness of one of our speakers. He had the group soundly engaged as he went over a program tool on how to analyze a school facility for appropriate staffing and efficiency as did Michael McCormick, principal of McCormick Facilities Management Consultants. Mike gave insight into how the use of data can help to make facility and financial decisions to correct building deficiencies and develop a comprehensive facilities management program.

Wednesday evening was capped off by an incredible outdoor reception that saw the expansion of the Stoweflake’s Hot Air Balloon as it set up to give tethered rides to the guests. Unfortunately, while the sun smiled upon us, the winds blew out our hopes of soaring into the mountain air. Only one group got off the ground before the balloon team deemed the sky too turbulent for the event. It was a disappointment to many, but a recognition of relief also swept the crowd as they witnessed the ebb-and-tide ride of the lone foursome that did get off the ground. There was still a putting contest to conquer and beautiful grounds to roam while awaiting the evening’s meal.

The Snowflake’s award-winning kitchen did an excellent job of feeding our crowd that evening and as we ate, we were entertained by magic tricks from the one and only Dr. Steven Taubman. As Dr. Taubman went table-by- table, people did not know the full impact that was in store, for after dessert, the main piece d’resistance arrived in the entertaining form of the hypnotism act he skillfully performed. Words cannot describe the hilarity of his show as we watched those we know completely and honestly go under his hypnotic spell. As those on stage watched their “funniest” movie show, their “saddest” scene and then, horror-of-horrors, their own parents in the “steamy” shots mere suggestion caused them to envision, we in the crowd watched in amazement and constant laughter. What fun to see that look of excitement in one’s eye as Brad Pitt was spied in the audience. With pride we listened to our own “Lord of the Jungle” call out convincingly as one-after- another stage partner forgot their own name. All of our sides ached and heads did shake in recognition of how incredibly entertaining the evening was.

Thursday we all arose to do our run, walk or just talk before a splendid breakfast buffet. The morning was enhanced by the sounds of the Mt Abraham Acappella Choir. The vocal flare that came forth with no instrumentation was beautiful and entertaining. That, followed by a group of students who showed their stage presence as school news anchors and producers, proudly reminded us why we do the work we do in our schools. The display of talent and skill our children provided us on stage lays testament to us on why we must “go on with the show” and work to provide opportunities for those in our systems.

After being welcomed by Vermont Department of Education’s CFO, Bill Talbot, who filled in for the ailing Brian O’Regan as Acting Deputy Commissioner of Education, and who the very next day was named Acting Commissioner of Education, we knew we are a group that could be ready for anything. The trend today is to be flexible in education. The trend is to deal with change, which led us into our General Session where we were treated to a talk on Sixteen Trends and their profound impact on us, given by national speaker Gary Marx. Mr. Marx walked us through the demographic, technological and social norm trends that impact our time in education and beyond. Trends that influenced our daily life as we witnessed in the “Lights, Camera, Leadership!” presentation given by local middle school students who demonstrated to our group how they put technology to use in their school-based televised news anchor show. These students demonstrated how well communication tools mix with education today and were a powerful reminder of the impact our changing world has to change the world.

Then, we delve into the morning session from our friends at the IRS as they gave us the nuts and bolts basics of what the regulations were surrounding 403(b) compliance that left us informed but mystified as we tried to piece together the puzzle between the nuts and bolts of what path we needed to take to comply with this regulation for our districts and the building block basics of what the rules expected from us.

Meanwhile, we were honored to receive a fellow ASBO member from the state of Illinois as Ron Everett described the “p-card” procurement process they developed in that state and how we might use these services here. The p-cards efficiency, audit trail, and cost- effective virtues seemed a valuable tool in handling the purchases of departments in our schools in a cost effective and stream-lined way that could save time and money in the process.

Offering advancement in other “tools in our toolbox,” Connie Hyslop provided us with workshops on the effective use of Microsoft Publisher to communicate our message through step-by-step creations of brochures, newsletters, flyers, signs and more…while utilizing the digital photographs created and edited in her morning session on digital imaging.

The afternoon continued with a follow-up program from Gary Marx on the Qualities of Future-Focused Leaders that built upon the realities of his earlier talk to provide techniques to use in building consensus, analyzing data and strategically communicating the meaning of data, not just the information.

Leaving “no-stone-unturned” in our construction of workshops to advance and guide us in our duties as business officials, we turned to our representatives from the AIA and Harriman Associates’ Jeffrey Larimer and Dan Cecil in what to do with building projects in our districts. Dollars are limited and bricks and mortar cost dollars, so knowing how to approach the very real strategies of whether to build or remodel to maximize the dollars we have as well as approach our community to build consensus on need, style, design and decision-making are as critical today as ever. Real life experiences in promoting and organizing a school construction project provided great insight.

And, who doesn’t need great insight as we traverse the terrain of dealing with the sometimes difficult people with whom we deal? Numbers we can handle, but some of the toughest aspects of our jobs don’t add up as we are forced to deal beyond our calculators with “whiners,” “space cases,” “screamers” and the “yes but” buddies in the workplace. What a fun-filled 90 minutes Vickie Hoefle, Director of Shared Ventures Group provided us as she helped us to examine, explore and effectively manage situations with our most challenging and daunting task; man.

The day gave way to what is always a main stage event in our conference, the Vendor Exhibit. The great hall was hopping with the services we rely on so heavily in the business. It was wonderful to stroll through the crowd and pick up needed tips, information and new ideas in what our commercial partners had to offer.

Then, we offered a little time to relax before we moved on to the banquet and energetically charged performance of the Harwood Jazz Ensemble. What a great treat as we enjoyed the talent of our youth and the skill of our instructors with a night of great music. What a great backdrop to provide us with an opportunity to honor and promote education as we presented our first ever Tri-State Scholarships. These awards were given by drawing, one for each state, to be awarded to a graduating high school student going on to study in business management. Business Officials selected through the drawing bring back to their home district the scholarship to be awarded to a student to help defray costs in their second semester of college life. The scholarship program brings pride to our commitment of education and our profession. It set the stage for presentations from Paul Bobek, ASBO International representative, as he addressed our group and thanked our state presidents for their valued service this past year.

The evening continued on with the rock’n oldies band, Galusha Hill Gang. It amazes us still that we can hoof it on the dance floor til’ the wee hours of morn’ and still manage to make it to breakfast for our final day on Friday.

On Friday, we went from the “hill gang” of the night before to the “Highlands” of Scotland as the Celtic Bagpipe band of St Johnsbury Academy trumpeted in our day. The group was stunning in their regalia as they piped their way through the room and ushered us in to our “Wellness Fair.”

The wellness fair offered a concentration of vendors specializing in nutrition, wellness and fitness programs. There were massage chairs, stability balls and nutritious snacks available for testing and tasting to prepare us for a healthy and enthusiastic variety of activities as we began the windup of our conference.

After a packed-filled three days, we were ready for an inspirational send-off and our key-note speaker Mark Adams did not disappoint. Mark is a past NCAA college basketball coach and current ESPN analyst. His talk entitled “Redwoods” stood tall as the message of how to build a strong team and be an effective leader resonated across the hall. Too often we focus on weaknesses in our daily teams when we really need to focus on our strengths to win the game. Mark pointed out that the strength of a team comes from combined effort of many, each with their own reasons to stand tall and each succeeding against what the winds may blow because at their roots is a tight commitment of support with one another.

What a message to leave with! What a powerful picture to lead with in our lives!

The day now dawned, final raffles drawn, we set forth from our conference experience better equipped, we hope, to tackle the challenges and opportunities of our profession. The lessons learned and the camaraderie felt these past three days cannot be held down. The path we began alone soon coalesced in the knowledge that we are one of many. We realize that there is a group to rely on, a fellowship of those that share the same titles and trials in school business management. But, we soon realize that we have worked together these past few days to rise together. We have gained new breath, we have helped each other ascend, we have reached new heights and we have done it together.




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