Topeka The state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services plans to reorganize, reducing the number of regional administrators and perhaps even eliminating regional offices altogether, Secretary Janet Schalansky announced Thursday.
Schalansky said the changes represented the second phase of her agency's efforts to overhaul how SRS delivers services to needy Kansans. She and other SRS officials say they want to create multiple "access points" in each county, rather than maintain central offices that needy Kansans must visit for services.
SRS already has closed 26 of its 105 county offices and plans to close another 37 by July 1, 2005, leaving 42 to operate as "service centers."
The department also operates 11 regional offices but plans to consolidate its service regions into only seven by July 1, 2004, and combining two regions covering the western half of the state into one by July 1, 2005.
In addition, Schalansky told reporters that SRS may not have traditional regional offices but have administrators working in one city, with staff in other communities. She said the changes eventually could save the state between $1 million and $2 million a year in lower administrative costs.
"We're hoping that our new service redesign will make us a little more nimble and efficient," Schalansky said during a news conference. "We don't know how many administrators we're going to need."
However Gary Brunk, executive director of Kansas Action for Children, a non-profit advocacy group, said SRS is considering such changes because it has faced budget problems and staff turnover in recent years.
"I have a real concern about whether SRS has enough staff and enough resources," Brunk said.
Currently, SRS has regional offices in Chanute, Emporia, Garden City, Hays, Hutchinson, Kansas City, Lawrence, Manhattan, Overland Park, Topeka, and Wichita.
Under the reorganization, Garden City and Hays would be in the same region, as would Manhattan and Topeka, Hutchinson and Emporia and Kansas City, Lawrence and Overland Park.
Schalansky said the changes, along with county office closings, will help needy Kansans by setting up more than 300 places, including libraries, local health departments and senior citizens, where they can find information about services or applications for programs. Potential clients use the phone and Internet, she said, and SRS staff will go where they are needed most.
The SRS secretary's announcement also is part of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' efforts to portray her administration as making state government more efficient.
Schalansky noted that a team Sebelius appointed before her inauguration in January to study social services suggested a consolidation of SRS regional offices. Also, Schalansky's staff distributed a news release quoting Sebelius as noting, "I have challenged all state agencies to pursue more efficient way of doing business."
Brunk questioned whether all needy Kansans will have access to the Internet or transportation that would take them to an access point.
He added, "What vulnerable families need is a human being to provide them with assistance."