Robert Harder, who will become acting secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services under Gov.-elect Joan Finney in two weeks, told a roomful of people in Lawrence today that he will recommend changes in the way the agency's central office operates.
But Harder also said the SRS transition team he has headed will not recommend that the agency be split, as some have advocated.
And Harder also warned that SRS will be dealing with a bare-bones budget that will make it difficult to initiate new programs.
Speaking at the Lawrence area SRS office, Harder, who previously had served as SRS secretary for 18 years, acknowledged concerns that have been raised about the agency he will lead. More than 50 people attended the meeting, including a number of local legislators, many SRS personnel, and people who run local social service agencies.
"You probably know there are a lot of concerns about morale, about communication between central office and the field, and about mixed policy signals," he said. "As an old SRS person, I felt these need attending to."
HARDER SAID SRS will be dealing with a "maintenance budget" in fiscal year 1992, which starts in July. He said any programs not currently funded will not be initiated unless the Legislature approves new funds.
"The budget is simply that tight," he said.
Harder also said SRS will ask the 1991 Legislature for a supplemental appropriation of about $22 million just to get the agency through the remainder of this fiscal year. That figure may have to be raised, he said, because of a court injunction that will require SRS to increase state payments it makes to nursing homes.
Harder explained changes he said the transition team will recommend in the administration of SRS. He said he had originally recommended that the agency be split, but the idea was rejected by the rest of the transition team.
"Area directors said people don't come to us split up, they come to us with multiple problems," Harder said.
But Harder said he will begin a management services section to provide legislators with caseload projections and other information they need during the session. He also plans to create a community program section to deal with SRS grants to local communities.
HE ALSO mentioned the creation of a special section to deal directly with the federal government on federally mandated programs partially funded by the state.
"Sometimes we felt their rules and regulation are inappropriate," he said.
Harder said another significant change will be to put one staff member in charge of training both for SRS client jobs programs and for SRS staff.
He said he has heard that the 8,500 people who work full-time for SRS sometimes do not get sufficient training.
Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, asked Harder about the creation of local children's authorities to deal on a local level with children in need of care.
Harder said the transition team likes the idea of creating a local children's authority, but said federal requirements may present problems with funding.
He said the transition team wants to set up a statewide commission on children's services to administer funds for all children's programs in the state.
Harder said local children's authorities eventually may be set up in the 31 judicial districts.
JIM BAZE, supervisor of adult services in the Lawrence area SRS office, asked Harder about placement of young people.
Baze said the placement of children in SRS custody has become increasingly difficult because of the higher level of care they now need.
Harder said he is almost to the point where he will recommend that the state runs its own group homes for children, thereby saving the high expenses being paid to private homes.
Harder also said he will work on reducing the amount of time SRS personnel spend traveling in connection with their jobs. He said that time would be better spent with clients and that he may recommend the agency be authorized to hire drivers.