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

Report triggers bipartisan discussion about broader use of merit raises

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
November 30, 2022

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 Revenue 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.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Derek Nester
Derek Nesterhttp://www.sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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