Gov.’s legacy clear locally

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

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Shumlin’s impact wide-ranging one

ST. ALBANS — Gov. Peter Shumlin, who announced Monday that he will not seek a fourth term, has championed initiatives that have touched on multiple aspects of life in Franklin County.

The impact has been wide ranging, from education to the criminal justice system to the revitalization of downtown St. Albans and water quality.

“He’s been kind to Franklin County and he’s been really kind to poor people,” said Linda Ryan, co-chair of the Governor’s Poverty Council.

Ryan, who is also the director of the homeless shelter, Tim’s House, particularly praised the Vermont rental subsidy program. The state subsidy program, which now has grown to a $1 million program, allows families to sustain housing until they can get a federal housing voucher or secure a better paying job, explained Ryan. “In all the years I’ve been in human services, that’s the most beneficial program,” she said. “It’s been a blessing.”

The governor also supported renovations at Tim’s House.

“He’s been extremely supportive of nearly anything to do with low-income folks,” said Ryan, citing his efforts to raise the minimum wage, help people get out from under driving while license suspended tickets, and remove questions about criminal convictions from state job applications.

When activists, including Ryan, objected to his proposal to reduce the earned income tax credit, he formed the Governor’s Poverty Council. “He understands poverty and he understands what needs to be done to alleviate it,” she said.

Water quality

Most recently, Shumlin took up the cause of water quality, with the Vermont Legislature most recently passing H. 35, a bill that came directly from the work of his administration and will provide more resources for water quality improvements and enforcement.

Perhaps more importantly, he instructed the various agencies to cooperate on water quality, particularly the Agencies of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “He bought the two agencies together,” said Denise Smith, executive director of the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (FNLC). “We’d never seen collaboration like that before.”

In addition, Shumlin worked with the state’s Congressional delegation to secure federal funding for cleanup efforts, said Smith. “Now we have a bill that has money in it,” she said.

Education

Education has been a big focus of Shumlin’s administration, and local educators believe his administration will have a lasting impact on education in the state.

“His interest in early education is something that will be beneficial to the state for a long time to come,” said Franklin Northeast Superintendent Jay Nichols.

Shumlin was a committed champion of early childhood education, which is now guaranteed for all Vermont three- and four-year-olds. Research has shown early education has benefits throughout a child’s life and it has been linked to reduced corrections and social service costs later, Nichols noted.

Making college more affordable and giving all Vermont students a chance at a college education were also Shumlin’s goals, made possible through a dual enrollment program with the state’s colleges in which students can spend their junior and senior years of high school attending college for free.

At the same time, Shumlin pushed for personalized learning plans tailored around the needs and goals of individual students and flexible pathways to high school graduation.

“The personalization is exactly the right thing to do, but, boy, is it tough,” said Franklin Northwest Superintendent Winton Goodrich. Shumlin’s education initiatives are requiring educators to change the way they think and work, said the school superintendent.

“He does understand we’ve got to do something about decreasing enrollment and growing costs,” Nichols said of the governor.

Shumlin’s administration was deeply involved in the crafting of a bill to reduce education spending and reduce the number of supervisory unions in the state. That legislation, H. 361, will be the “most impactful legislation in education in 100 years,” said Goodrich.

The full impact of the bill, which provides incentives for consolidation of school districts, will not be known for some time. In the short term, it will cap the increase in total statewide school spending at two percent, with each school receiving a varying spending limit based on its record of spending increases. Schools with a history of higher spending will be held to tighter limits.

Downtown development

When it comes to a visible, lasting impact, Shumlin has left a clear legacy in St. Albans, where his willingness to sell the state office building on Houghton Street to Mylan Technologies and build a new one on Federal Street were a key element of the city’s downtown revitalization plans.

St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache said the governor was innovative and creative in assisting with downtown revitalization. “They’ve been their every step of the way,” she said of his administration’s support for the city.

“He has been extraordinarily supportive of downtowns,” said Gamache, recognizing their importance to Vermont’s economy and way of life.

Addiction and justice

During his first campaign, Shumlin made reducing costs at the Dept. of Corrections a central part of his vision for Vermont. His goal was to reduce recidivism and find ways to help people involved in the criminal justice system rebuild their lives.

Shumlin spoke directly about an issue many were willing to shove under the rug – drug addiction.

“As a freshman rep, Gov. Shumlin was front and center trying to deal with opiates… at a time when not many people were willing to talk about it,” said Sen. Dustin Degree, R-Franklin County, who worked with Shumlin on legislation to address addiction during his time in the House. That legislation was in 2012 and provided more funding for local treatment centers.

In 2014, Shumlin made national headlines when he made addiction the center of his state of the state address. With people from Franklin County who had struggled with addiction in the audience, Shumlin spoke of the toll drug addiction was taking on the state and offered a series of proposals for addressing addiction.

Among them was a screening program, which is just now getting underway at the Community Justice Center (CJC). That program will allow the state’s attorney to approve rapid intervention with substance abuse and mental health treatment before those accused of a crime have gone through the criminal justice system. It allows for early diversion, explained Marc Wennberg, executive director of the CJC.

“This was a big push of the Shumlin administration,” said Wennberg. “If it works as intended, it’ll have a significant impact both on individuals and on our rates of incarceration.”

The CJC has also seen a boost in funding for its other programs, particularly offender re-entry services intended to reduce recidivism, explained Wennberg. With that funding, the CJC has been able to expand services, increase accountability and divert “people from the criminal justice system when it is safe for the community.”

As part of his announcement, Shumlin spoke of his goals for the next 18 months, which include continuing to corrections costs, as well as prevent and treat addiction. Also on the agenda are continued economic development, containing health care costs, placing the state on a sustainable justice path, renewable energy, and paid sick leave.

Degree, who worked with the Douglas administration in the days after Douglas, a Republican, announced he would not seek another term, suggested the decision not to seek another term may be a liberating one for the governor. “I think we’re going to see a happier… Gov. Shumlin than we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

Although Degree has not always agreed with Shumlin’s policy choices, he offered his thanks to the governor for his commitment to Vermont.