Bill passed for classified to leave civil service

11:00:02 AM CDT - Thursday, April 07, 2005

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

The Kansas Legislature has passed a bill that would allow each state university to convert all or part of its classified employees from state civil service to unclassified positions.

As of late last week, the bill was awaiting approval from Gov. Sebelius.

Under the bill, any plan to convert to an unclassified system would have to be approved by the affected state civil service employees at their individual institution and the Kansas Board of Regents. Each university would develop its own administrative system for those employees.

The converted employees would keep all the health and flexible benefits, along with leave and retirement benefits that they have under the current state system, according to the bill.

Allowing classified staff to opt out of the state civil service has been an ongoing effort for the past two years at the University of Kansas, which has had two votes among its classified employees for an alternative employment system. The first vote ended in a tie, but in a second vote, employees agreed to consider such a system. The KU employees have had the backing of state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, in their efforts.

At WSU, a committee of about a dozen classified and unclassified staff has been discussing the issue, as well.
"This doesn't mean we'll go ahead and do this (conversion)," said Ellen Abbey, who has led the committee since its formation in summer 2003. She said the committee is still waiting to see what will happen at KU, and then it would ask the WSU community about what to do at this university.

Proponents of the conversion say it will give the universities more flexibility in salaries and pay raises if classified staff converted to an unclassified system. One related issue, which the WSU committee has been reviewing, is how departments with smaller budgets could handle funding its employees, Abbey said.

Opponents of the bill, including the Kansas Association of Public Employees union, say that if university funding is cut, providing pay raises to employees wouldn't be a top priority if compensation packages were left to the individual university.

The smaller universities at Fort Hays, Pittsburg and Emporia have been lukewarm to the issue since its inception, said Abbey, noting that in those communities the cost of living is much lower than cities where the state's three largest universities are located.

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