After several years of salary slights, it adds insult to injury for Kansas Board of Regents workers to see how their paychecks stack up against statewide averages.
Given the state's current fiscal problems, it's not surprising that salaries for state employees aren't keeping pace with those in the private sector.
That is cause for concern, but what is even more troubling is that salaries for classified employees at Kansas Board of Regents schools apparently are lagging even behind the state average.
The Kansas Council of Classified Senates, which represents 6,000 classified employees at regents schools across the state, has done a salary study that places the average state classified salary at $30,575 a year. There's a significant gap between that figure and the average classified salary of $26,188 at Kansas University and $26,304 at Kansas State University.
How can such a gap be justified?
Classified employees include most of the non-teaching staff at KU. They perform the myriad support duties that keep the university in operation. They include secretaries, plumbers, clerks, electricians and many other workers. Without them, the university simply couldn't function.
In many cases, these employees are getting paid less than they would in the private sector. In too many cases, apparently, workers at KU and other regents schools are getting paid even less than the state average. Universities report that they spend time training workers as plumbers, electricians and other skilled laborers only to see them leave their jobs to take better-paying jobs in private business. This is a costly loss and a poor way for the state to conduct business.
For many years, university officials have worried about faculty members, discouraged by substandard salaries, leaving KU for jobs at other universities. Classified staff members working for far lower wages have even less reason to stay at KU out of loyalty. A tight job market may keep them around, but reports that morale among KU classified employees is extremely low should come as no surprise.
State budget cuts canceled raises for all state employees this year while health insurance costs cut deeper into their paychecks. A recommended 1.5 percent across-the-board raise for state employees next year provides little reason for optimism.
Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, has introduced legislation that would give universities more flexibility in the salaries they pay rather than making them adhere strictly to the state's salary matrix. His plan might not affect the total salary budget for classified employees, but it could allow those funds to be targeted to areas where schools are having trouble retaining skilled workers.
The key point in this debate is fairness. There is no apparent justification for average salaries for classified employees at regents schools to fall significantly below the state average. Knowing that their salaries are 14 percent below the state average for classified employees can't help but be demoralizing to regents staff members. It's a matter of fairness that state legislators need to address.