Kansas salary survey: 70% of state government jobs pay workers below-market rates

Report triggers bipartisan discussion about broader use of merit raises

By: - November 30, 2022 4:27 pm
Kraig Knowlton, personnel director at the Kansas Department of Administration

Kraig Knowlton, personnel director at the Kansas Department of Administration, told House and Senate members 70% of 110 Kansas state government jobs paid workers below market rates based on the latest multi-state survey. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

TOPEKA — Seven of 10 categories of Kansas government workers were paid below average market rates based on a new survey examining wages at comparable in-state employers and state government employers in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri and elsewhere.

The Kansas Department of Administration’s report identified pay deficiencies of 32% for law clerks, 22% for social worker supervisors, 19% for driver license examiners, 13% for chemists, 9% for senior electricians, 7% for fire investigators, 3% for property appraisers and 1% for technology support consultants.

On the flip side, the survey comparing base pay in Kansas state government to averages of in-state employers and out-of-state government employers revealed instances in which Kansas had better wages than the comparison sample. The Kansas Highway Patrol’s master troopers were paid 30% more than peers, while Capitol area guards received 27% above peers and safety and security officers got 20% more.

Kraig Knowlton, director of personnel services in the Department of Administration, told an interim committee of House and Senate members there were three avenues for adjusting employee compensation.

He said there were across-the-board raises, such as the 5% boost authorized by the 2022 Legislature for most state workers. Kansas state workers also could secure a raise by stepping up a pay grade. If hired before June 2008, some were eligible for annual longevity bonuses of no more than $1,000. The other approach would be for lawmakers to target adjustments based on market forces, he said.

“Over the years,” Knowlton said, “the state has done a good job of doing one of those a year, sometimes two, but very, very rarely do we do three.”

He said Kansas had 4,400 classified employees and 14,000 unclassified staff, excluding the state’s higher education system. The compensation of unclassified personnel is generally decided by an agency’s supervisor. There is no mechanism in state law enabling an agency supervisor to award classified personnel merit raises that distinguished between a person rated as excellent and the marginal worker meeting minimum expectations.

Sen. Marci Francisco, a Democrat from Lawrence, said the state ought to deal with the breadth of underpaid state government workers with a program that combined percentage adjustments for all with targeted dollar amounts for individuals at the lower end of the pay scale.

In other words, she said, the Legislature needed to fashion a more flexible approach to compensating classified employees based on merit and longevity. She said millions of dollars invested by lawmakers to boost Kansas Highway Patrol retention and recruiting was a worthy cause, but other essential state government workers hadn’t receive comparable treatment through the political process.

“We know that it’s been hard to refill positions in the Highway Patrol, but we also know that the case loads for social workers are increasing,” Francisco said.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said he was baffled by state government’s failure to adopt methods of private industry that awarded raises based on performance.

“If you’re in the private sector it’s based off of your work and your performance. But when we’re talking about state government, we just give everybody a blanket 5%,” Waymaster said.

He said across-the-board raises didn’t properly incentivize the state government’s workforce. The 5% increase applicable to most state employees — some were exempt, including the KHP, because they benefitted from alternative salary enhancements — cost the state $145 million. In total, the 2022 Legislature approved $224 million in salary increases for the current fiscal year.

“In the private sector, as a manager you have those hard conversations with an individual who is actually overperforming and saying, ‘You know what? You deserve a pay increase this year.’ Then you have to have a conversation with an employee that is underperforming and say, ‘Look, due to your results you’re not getting a pay increase this year,'” Waymaster said.

Knowlton said the latest survey included one-third of jobs within the Kansas government structure. In Kansas, there are 350 different classified jobs and double that number of unclassified positions. The survey was sent to 450 public and private employers, and the Department of Administration received 105 responses. The analysis took into account base pay without inclusion of overtime pay.

Here’s an example: Pay for an accountant III employed at 27 Kansas state government agencies averaged $24.55 per hour. The market rate of $32.23 for mid-level accountants reflected an average hourly rate of $31.83 at in-state employers and an average of $33.41 per-hour on state government payrolls in Iowa, New Mexico, Wyoming and Kansas’ four surrounding states. The survey indicated accountant IIIs in Kansas were underpaid by 24%.

“We target public and private employers all across the state. We’re not focused on one particular geographic area,” Knowlton said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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