What A Waste Of Money

Southbury Training School

Southbury Training School
The institution for the intellectually disabled is serving a dwindling population at the huge cost of $1,000 per client a day. (Carolyn Lumsden / Hartford Courant)

The Southbury Training School is an obsolete, rundown institution that hasn't admitted any new residents in 30 years. The state has to commit to closing it. Its wild overtime costs continue to suck taxpayer money that could be better spent serving many more people with intellectual disabilities at much more reasonable cost in smaller private facilities.

One state worker at Southbury, for example, pumped up her $60,000 base salary to a hard-to-believe $196,000 with overtime this past fiscal year, The Courant's Josh Kovner has reported. With fringe benefits, she earned $237,886 — more than Gov. Dannel P. Malloy makes.

Overtime Extravagance

Four of her colleagues earned an are-you-kidding-me $100,000 each in overtime. Another 50 earned $50,000 or more in OT.

Altogether, Southbury's 615 full- and part-time employees (serving just 229 clients) earned an average of $20,000 each in overtime.

This is an extravagant waste of public money. Moreover, it's inhumane to work people too many hours. Long hours lead to high injury rates and poor performance, and that could endanger the elderly, vulnerable residents of Southbury.

The state is paying too steep a price to keep open an outmoded institution serving a dwindling population at the huge average cost of $360,000 per client per year — nearly a thousand dollars a day. It costs half of that or or less to care for a client in a private facility.

But the state agency that runs Southbury Training School has yet to report to a legislative committee on how to close the exorbitant institution, as it was ordered to do back in late 2015. You'd think a state financial crisis would speed the agency up.

A spokeswoman for the agency, the state Department of Developmental Services, says that personnel spending is actually down at Southbury. What's driving costs up are such things as state pension debt, she says.

Well, no wonder. Overtime is part of state workers' pension calculation. Pension padding is helping to put Connecticut state government in a financial ditch, yet it continues.

Money For Some, Not Others

Southbury isn't alone among state-run institutions with out-of-control overtime costs. A worker at an institution in Newington was paid $150,000 in OT in the last fiscal year, on top of his $57,000 salary. For two years in a row, his total compensation was at least $262,000.

Yet there's no money in the governor's budget proposal for day programs for the intellectually disabled. Nor is there money for the 2,100 families on the waiting list for services or residences for their disabled relatives.

While state employees run up overtime to astronomical levels, the vast majority of intellectually disabled people are served by the private sector, where the cost is half or less, with no difference in quality — or they're not being served by the state at all, but are being cared for at home, often by aging parents.

Some of the families of those on the waiting list and others have called for Southbury to close by 2020 and for its clients to be moved to smaller private facilities, where they'll be cared for well but not so wastefully. The families have been unable to get a commitment from either the governor or the legislature.

So they wait for years, sometimes decades, for a place for their disabled loved ones to live, while workers at state institutions earn outrageous sums that eat up state funds. How is this fair?

Copyright © 2017, Hartford Courant

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