Representatives from three local governments are joining forces to fight a proposed closure of the SRS office in Lawrence.
Several elected officials from the Lawrence City Commission and the Lawrence school board joined their top administrators for a working meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Douglas County Courthouse.
They met at the invitation of County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, who gathered the officials with County Administrator Craig Weinaug to explore options for convincing the state to keep the Social and Rehabilitation Services location up and running in Lawrence.
The meeting was not open to the public.
“We wanted to get all of the representatives of the local governments together to talk about the variety of alternatives that we see — that we’ve been discussing,” said Gaughan, a Democrat. “This was an opportunity to get other local governments involved and engaged in an issue that has significant — will have a significant — impact on our community.
“We, the County Commission, have been in discussions with our attorney about a variety of different alternatives that might be used to address this. Before we take any further steps, it’s important for us to reach out to the other governing bodies.”
Officials declined to discuss specifics of possibilities, but SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. previously has described the announced closure as a cost-cutting move, one expected to save the state $400,000 a year, most of it in rent. About half of the amount is paid by the federal government.
Just what the three local governments could do to convince Siedlecki — or his boss, Gov. Sam Brownback — to keep SRS operations in Lawrence remains unclear, but the city, county and school district do work together in other matters. They team up to approve applications for tax breaks by various businesses; the city and county jointly finance planning, plus fire and medical services; and the school district welcomes city police officers — school resource officers — at its two high schools and four middle schools.
Working together to save a state office targeted for closure may pose a challenge, but officials with all three governments say they’re willing to try.
“Our objective is to keep the office open, so we’re not taking anything off of the table,” Gaughan said. “If we can meet our goal, to keep the office open, that’s the measure of our success. How we get there? We still have to work that out.”
Potential options span from monetary to real estate and beyond, said Vanessa Sanburn, a school board member who attended the meeting Tuesday afternoon.
While the district is severely limited — “by statute” — in its ability to contribute financially, she said, there’s no doubt that the local governments must work together to make such an important initiative work.
“As big of a deal as this is, it falls to all three governing bodies,” said Sanburn, who considers SRS programs and services as key for many students to receive the educations they both need and deserve. “Certainly, we can’t pay for it (SRS). We can’t adopt SRS as an umbrella under the school district. But we do need to have SRS ... to do our job.”
Mark Bradford, board president, said he already had heard from constituents interested in having the district solve the “rent problem” by offering an empty school building for use by SRS. The district allows the Boys and Girls Club, for example, to use the former East Heights School for $1 a year.
One problem: “We don’t have any empty buildings,” said Bradford, who also attended the meeting. “We would have to kick somebody out of something. All the buildings have people in them.”
David Corliss, Lawrence city manager, said that the city certainly was interested in exploring possibilities for retaining SRS services in town.
“We’re going to continue to look at options and alternatives in discussing this issue with SRS,” he said.