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Feb. 7, 2005
Contact: Lynn Bretz, University Relations, (785) 864-8866.

KU Chancellor's and Provost's prepared remarks re: Alternative Civil Service

House Higher Education Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee
Testimony by KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway and Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor David Shulenburger
Monday, February 7, 2005
State Capitol

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway:
Good afternoon, Representative Sloan and members of the committee, and thank you for this opportunity to discuss House Bill 2020, a bill of great interest to classified staff at the University of Kansas and throughout the Regents system.

Last Thursday, when I testified before the Ways and Means Subcommittee for Education, I touched on three basic themes:

  • Our success in fulfilling KU's mission as a state institution;
  • Our efforts to provide an excellent return on the state's investment in us; and
  • Our need for appropriate state support, including management flexibility, as well as our willingness to be held accountable for the results.

Those themes are equally relevant to this discussion of HB-2020, a bill that would enable participating universities to better fulfill their mission, while leveraging state funds to best advantage, and with a high degree of accountability.

In recent years, the Governor and the Legislature have shown a clear desire to free public higher education from cumbersome and unproductive management requirements, many of which were imposed 50 or more years ago.

Tuition ownership and block grant funding were instituted as part of this transformation, and the Board of Regents took on an expanded coordinating role.

Consistent with that trend, the Board now seeks statutory authority – through HB-2020 -- to create a new category of unclassified employees called "University Support Staff."

The change would be permissive, so that each university could determine whether it wants to take this step. If approved, a university could then bring a specific plan to the Board for review and approval.

This proposed alternative to the State Civil Service would give participating universities beneficial administrative flexibility in an area that is now rigid, inflexible and counterproductive for everyone. The status quo severely impedes our ability to advance our mission on behalf of the state of Kansas.

HB-2020 would help us and our employees greatly -- at no new cost to the state -- while maintaining accountability where it properly belongs: with the university and the Board of Regents.

David Shulenburger, executive vice chancellor and provost at Lawrence, has been immersed in this topic for the past several years. I've asked him to speak to you and respond to your questions concerning specifics of the Regents' proposal.

Classified staff at the KU campus in Lawrence have taken a leadership role in advancing this initiative: enlisting local campus support, working closely with the administration, and engaging the Board as advocates. We are grateful for their persistence and support.

Testimony by David Shulenburger, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost:

Thank you, Chancellor, and thank you to the Committee for inviting us to participate in this hearing.

Civil Service, in Kansas and elsewhere, developed in the last century out of a legitimate desire to eliminate a spoils system of patronage, while ensuring that government positions were held by qualified people, regardless of political party.

As a management system for ensuring fairness and order in state offices, Civil Service has worked well. The working world has changed dramatically, however, and a system that was satisfactory 50 years ago now has some distinct disadvantages for universities and their classified employees. While preserving the best of Civil Service, HB-2020 would help address those disadvantages, which include these four examples:

  • Rigid state classified job descriptions that don't truly reflect the employment environment in higher education;
  • Salaries that are controlled by a rigid pay matrix that is uniform across the state, with no acknowledgment of regional differences in cost of living or job market;
  • No mechanism to reward employees based on merit; and
  • A dispute resolution system that shifts responsibility and accountability from the campus to an office in Topeka.

Many of the non-academic support positions of the university are in the state's classified civil service system. Jobs in this category include plumbers, power plant technicians, custodians, and administrative assistants, all classified centrally under 350 job titles and descriptions for our roughly 1,400 classified staff.

How do the disadvantages of the current system affect the university and its classified staff? Here are some examples:

  • Rigid job classifications: Narrowly written job classifications prevent us from adapting a position to meet new job demands and inhibit our ability to provide staff with opportunities for personal growth.

    Why is this is a problem for a university? First, unlike most state offices, we are in the midst of rapid, market-driven change. With some skilled hires, we are forced to fit people into rigid job classifications and titles that were created to describe a previous generation of technology. Since 'title equals pay' on the state matrix, an inaccurate title can mean inappropriate salary. The state system has not kept pace.

    • Another unfortunate result is a lack of genuine professional growth opportunities for classified staff, many of whom are locked into a narrow set of required skills and duties.

      The annual cycle of enrollment, examinations and graduation causes peaks and valleys in our workflow. To serve our students best, we need broadly trained employees who can serve many needs at peak times and then return to their normal duties at less busy times. Most classified staff -- but not all -- are very pleased to work outside their job classifications. Broader job classifications that would follow approval of our request would guarantee this.

    • Rigid pay matrix: For some positions, in some locations, the centrally approved state wage is simply non-competitive. In the Lawrence area, for example, it is difficult to fill and retain staff in positions that are vital to the functioning of the university.

      We face considerable difficulty hiring and keeping electricians, plumbers, police officers and refrigeration/air conditioning technicians, because the salaries we're permitted to offer are so much lower than the local market rate.

      For example, in the recent past we tried to fill a power plant operator position in our Facilities Operations department and found that the city of Baldwin City offered a better salary than we could, despite the fact that the power plant at Baldwin City is smaller than the one at KU.

      We have also found that certain positions - such as police officers and refrigeration/air conditioning technicians -- we train people who then go into private sector construction and trades at a significantly higher salary level.

      o No mechanism for merit pay: Within State Civil Service, those who excel at their work receive the same pay increases as those who only perform at an acceptable level. Since no salary step increases have been granted in recent years, there is currently no reward whatsoever for merit in the Civil Service system. The only increases have been for cost of living, not to reward genuine merit.

      On the Lawrence campus of KU, 52 percent of our classified staff are currently frozen on the beginning step of the pay matrix, while 5 percent are frozen at the top step.

    • A dispute resolution system: Currently, the final decision when a classified employee appeals a disciplinary action is made by the Civil Service Board in Topeka, by individuals who may have little or no understanding of the unique working environment of a university.

      However, appeals of performance evaluations are currently resolved successfully on our campus, in less time and with less expense, by individuals who are more familiar with a university environment. It doesn't make sense to resolve one form of appeal in Topeka and another form on the campus. We should be permitted to handle both.

    In short, we endure the limitations imposed by an antiquated system, while being unable to reward appropriately the people who are locked in the system with us. HB-2020 would help us address these challenges.

    HB-2020, if adopted, would permit a university to propose a specific plan for review and approval by the Board of Regents. No campus would be forced to change to the proposed alternative to State Civil Service.

    Under the legislation, existing classified employees would be converted to unclassified, university support staff positions. The legislation would delegate to a university the authority to:

    • Manage positions in this service, including job titles and compensation, allowing institutions to adjust salaries to reflect local market demand and salary compression problems;
    • Collapse narrow job classifications into broader categories with top and bottom salary ranges, a process known as "broad-banding"; and
    • Use a merit system for salary increases, just as we do with existing unclassified staff, with one-third of the pool based on merit.

    Not everything would change under this proposal. Campus-based grievance and appeal processes for these employees would continue, and would be similar to the existing KU grievance and appeal procedures. Full due process would be guaranteed.

    Now, however, the people judging these processes would be closer to the situation and more knowledgeable than those outside the university.
    Also, employees in the new system would retain membership in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement system and participate in the State Employee Health Care and leave plans. Any additional costs for these benefits programs would be borne by the university as part of the block operating grant.

    Also unchanged under HB-2020 would be the use of:

    • Merit principles of recruitment and selection;
    • Existing electronic application systems at KU;
    • Existing electronic performance appraisal evaluation at KU;
    • The progressive disciplinary process currently used by KU that ensures due process; and
    • Existing protections, so that staff are not "employees at will."

    Why do we believe this alternative to State Civil Service is good public policy, and why should you support it?

    First, HB-2020 is the result of extensive consultation with Lawrence classified staff over a period of years. Our Classified Senate was instrumental in shaping this proposal and, if it passes, they will remain involved in the process of creating a new plan.

    Classified staff continue to support this initiative. Last November, as the Board of Regents was discussing this initiative, our Classified Senate unanimously reaffirmed its support. Members of our Senate, and other Classified Staff, will be in the Capitol tomorrow, on their own time, to advocate for HB-2020 and other issues of concern to Classified Staff. They are testifying today on work time. They believe this bill will have a positive effect on them and on the university.

    Second, HB-2020 is similar to past initiatives that have worked. In the late 1970's, a crisis occurred at the KU Medical Center concerning salaries for nurses and other healthcare workers. The rigid, centrally imposed salaries for these high-demand workers were too meager to attract good candidates for available positions. This situation threatened the Hospital's ability to function.

    At that time, KU sought authority to create a new system for these specific employees. The legislature granted this authority, and our ability to recruit and retain staff was greatly improved.

    Third, most public universities operate this way. Within the Big Twelve Conference, only Colorado, outside of Kansas, still uses a state civil service system for its public universities. And Colorado is considering making a change.

    Finally, our experience managing roughly 1,800 unclassified non-faculty has been excellent and has prepared us to make equally productive use of Unclassified Support Staff should HB-2020 be adopted.

    Since the legislation is permissive, there is no fiscal or administrative impact for universities that choose not to pursue the alternative to State Civil Service.

    Universities that do make this change, such as the Lawrence campus of KU, would manage the extra costs through reduced turnover and lower training costs, or as part of the block operating grant.

    In summary, we believe permissive legislation that allows universities to pursue this new system will greatly enhance the ability of the university to manage all of its staff, resulting in:

    • Improved salary and working conditions for classified staff;
    • Elimination of barriers in pay and job title administration; and
    • Maintenance of the best features of State Civil Service.

    Obviously, any time you propose such a departure from past practice there are likely to be some questions and concerns. The Chancellor and I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.

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