Local legislators are planning a public forum — possibly next week — about the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services’ decision to close the Lawrence office.
SRS announced Friday that it was restructuring its offices statewide, a process that will include merging six regions into four, and closing nine offices to save money. It said the employees will be reassigned to neighboring offices, including the 87 in Lawrence. By far, the Lawrence office is the largest on the closure list.
SRS did not respond on Friday or on Tuesday to the Journal-World’s request for information about the number of caseloads at the Lawrence office. The agency also did not respond to about a dozen other questions.
House Democratic leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, and Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, also want answers about why Lawrence was picked.
“We need to understand the scope of the caseloads. How much work is really there and can it really be supported by redirecting them to other offices,” Holland said. “I want to make darn sure that those caseloads are not going to be interrupted.”
The outcry over closure of the local office — SRS provides a variety of services for low-income children and families, as well as for people with disabilities — has been intense, said Davis.
“I’ve certainly gotten a lot of phone calls from people who are upset,” he said. “There is widespread concern about this.”
On Tuesday, District Attorney Charles Branson described the closure as potentially devastating.
“It sure seems like there’s intent here to make Lawrence an unlivable community,” he said.
His office works closely with SRS. For example, SRS workers help interview children who may be the victims of abuse or neglect. Those interviews play an integral part in deciding whether his office can file charges.
“This doesn’t just fall upon children of low social economic groups. This covers a broad spectrum of children who could be abused and neglected for various reasons,” he said.
Branson said his office hasn’t been contacted by SRS.
“There’s just a ton of things right now that are in limbo for us,” he said. “We really don’t have any idea and nobody has even bothered discussing with us what the implications of these things mean.”