Human Services workers finish last shifts|[10/15/05]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 15, 2005

Nine workers with Vicksburg’s Department of Human Services finished their last shifts Friday, the final day for the department cut from this year’s budget.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said their role has been taken over by the Vicksburg Warren School District. Departing Assistant Director of Youth Services Vickie Bailey there’s more to it than that.

The municipal budget year started Oct. 1 and the department, created to oversee alternative education programs and after-school recreation primarily for disadvantaged children and students with discipline problems, was based at the city’s Jackson Street and Kings centers.

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Two positions may be created in the Recreation Department, but otherwise the nine are jobless.

&#8221The entire department was dissolved,“ said Bailey, who was unswayed by the city’s offer to absorb DHS employees into other positions. &#8221They know that that option does not exist…There are no positions,“ she said.

Leyens began his push to close the department two years ago after VWSD began similar programs at its Grove Street school. He said the Jackson Street and Kings centers will focus only on recreation.

&#8221We’re not an employment agency,“ said Leyens, who estimated the move would save the city around $450,000 in pay. &#8221We were providing a service … the school district rose up and set up programs to provide the same service. There’s no justification for using tax dollars to provide a service that the school district is already using tax dollars to provide.“

The school district is serving about 168 students with different needs at Grove Street, said Superintendent James Price, as many as two dozen of them would have been sent by the youth court judge to the Kings Center before the district’s Grove Street operation was an option. Price agreed that the school district’s program eliminated the need for a similar city-run program for students with discipline problems, especially, he said, when the number of discipline problems has dramatically decreased.

&#8221Two years ago, we had 45 students expelled. Last year we had two,“ said Price. &#8221We just don’t expel students that way now. We deal with the problems before they get to that stage we have to expel them.“

Bailey, however, said DHS provided many more services at its community centers than the education programs and disputed that participation had been dwindling before the announcement DHS would be dissolved. Bailey listed after-school counseling, tae kwon do, sports mini-camps, arts and crafts and African dance among the programs made available for students outside of the education services. Since the decision to eliminate the department about three months ago, however, she said numbers at the Jackson Street Community Center, which also serves adults, had dropped severely.

&#8221In my opinion, things were going well,“ said Bailey, who cited a $200,000-plus expansion to the Kings Center in 2003 as one of the city’s commitments to the program. &#8221What the school has picked up is only one component of what the Department of Youth Services gave to the community. What do the youth do after school? There’s nothing for them to do.“