State studying classified workers' pay, classification

4:40:00 PM CDT - Thursday, February 01, 2007

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

The state employee pay and classification plans are undergoing some scrutiny in Topeka.

Last week, a special House committee was formed to look at ways to improve the state's employee pay plan, the Topeka Capital Journal reported.

A consulting group that has conducted a market comparison study of classified salaries was scheduled to present its findings to the Legislature this week.

This comes on the heels of Gov. Sebelius recommending a 4 percent pay raise (a 2.5 percent step increase and a 1.5 cost-of-living adjustment) for state workers in the next fiscal year starting July 1. She's also suggested a $10 longevity pay increase to classified employees. Employees who have 10 or more years of service receive a longevity bonus of $40 per year of service. The bonuses cap at 25 years of service.

In addition to looking at state workers' salaries, the Legislature has also been asked to consider a new bill that would "clean up" some previous legislation that was meant to allow universities more flexibility in managing its classified employees, according to WSU officials.

The Legislature hired the Hay Group, a leading management consulting firm, to conduct the compensation study of state workers' salaries, according to Kraig Knowlton, manager of the policy and pay administration section of the state's Division of Personnel Services. Part of the study includes comparing state salaries to those of similar jobs in the marketplace.

The state's current classification of jobs is also going to be reviewed by the Division of Personnel Services, Knowlton said.

The process of reviewing those classifications may take some time, Knowlton noted.

"Since the compensation and the classification system are linked, (a new classification system) will depend on the compensation system," Knowlton said. "We can't implement the new classification system that we envision without a more flexible compensation system."

Designing the classification system would eventually include focus groups of different classes of employees for input, Knowlton said.

The Board of Regents has also asked the Legislature to consider new legislation, SB 21, that "would combine and clean up" two previous bills dealing with classified staff at state universities, according to a regents memo sent to Duane Goossen, the state's budget director.

In the past two legislative sessions, the Legislature passed two different bills related to classified employees at state universities. The first, passed in the spring 2005 session, would have allowed classified employees at state universities the option of becoming university support staff instead of state civil service employees. According to the bill, a proposal would go into effect only if the affected employees vote to accept such a plan.

Efforts by WSU to develop such a plan were stalled last spring when the Board of Regents attorney declared that the legislation didn't allow benefits, including vacation time, to be changed. The WSU proposal had included increases in vacation time, since the university budget likely had no room for additional compensation.

During the spring 2006 session, the Legislature passed a bill that cleared the way for universities to provide more leave time for classified employees. SB 375 stated that vacation and discretionary leave for classified staff at state universities could not be more than that earned by unclassified staff.

The two provisions conflict, according to the Board of Regents memo, "because (university support staff) may not receive leave enhancements and classified staff may not receive salary enhancements. SB 21 would combine and clean up the previous legislation to meet the intent of the Legislature, which was to allow universities more autonomy over their employees."

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