By Cristina Kumka
RUTLAND – Attendees of a legislative luncheon held at the Southside Steakhouse in Rutland Monday Jan. 26 were met with harsh words from Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin on how publicly-funded education and police dispatch should be reformed.
Coming off a narrow November election, Shumlin told the 135-person crowd of local and state politicians, lawmakers, planning officials and public utility employees, “What I got from the last election was a pretty clear message… That we’ve got to do more to lift incomes, grow jobs and lift prosperity for all Vermonters.”
Touting the state’s green energy future as promising, Shumlin quickly shifted gears to education – and how he plans to penalize small schools for not abiding by state rules he plans to enforce.
“Get rid of the small schools grants and get rid of phantom students, get rid of teacher strikes. We have failed as a state to partner with local school boards and communities,” Shumlin said.
“If we continue to pretend that we can keep spending the way we are, and that property tax payers are just gonna sit back and pay it, I say we are living in la la land and there’s gonna be much more extreme proposals ahead that will hurt kids and hurt schools.”
Shumlin said he wants to change the formulas that have kept teachers on the job in the wake of a declining student population, bringing Vermont the title of smallest student to teacher ratio at 4.7 students for every teacher.
But the state continues to have the highest per pupil spending and, Shumlin said, diverse educational options are few and far between.
He said he envisions schools having to report to a state assessment team and, if they don’t abide by spending threshholds and educational progress, further action will have to be taken.
“We will make you pay more for bad decisions or will actually be able to close or consolidate a school,” Shumlin said Monday.
He also addressed a plan in his state budget that would merge Rutland police dispatch services with Rockingham, slashing at least 30 well-paying jobs.
Rutland Senator Kevin Mullin asked Shumlin, in the wake of a severe recent loss of jobs in Rutland, from Rutland Plywood, JC Penney and other closures, to spare that move.
Shumlin asked Mullin to present a different idea.
“On the PSAP [public safety answering point], my budget proposal is balanced,” Shumlin said. “We made $15 million in cuts to structural changes to state government. The PSAP proposal is one of those. I’m not suggesting my plan is perfect. My only plea is if you have a better way of doing it, just make sure it saves the same amount of money as my proposal.”
Cristina Kumka is a correspondent for The Mountain Times, [email protected]