Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Friday signed into law a bill that will allow Kansas University's nearly 1,500 classified employees to leave the civil service system.
KU employee leaders say the move could result in larger pay raises.
"What can happen in the short term, we will be able to get a larger salary increase than we would have under civil service," said Kathy Jansen, president of the KU Classified Senate.
Under the civil service system, the Legislature sets pay rates for all state employees, and in recent years raises have been small or nonexistent.
Under the budget approved by lawmakers for the fiscal year starting July 1, state employees will get a 1.25 percent pay raise, and then another 1.25 percent increase in January.
Sebelius' signature on Senate Bill 74 represents another step in a process that has been going on for the past two years at KU.
In 2003, KU classified staff voted to pursue a plan to convert to unclassified positions, with 54 percent of those voting in favor of leaving civil service. That followed an earlier vote that ended in a tie.
There are about 1,470 classified workers at KU, including secretaries, janitors and maintenance employees.
Last year, the Kansas Board of Regents endorsed KU trying the new employment system. KU administrators have also been behind the proposal.
The Legislature adopted the proposal last month despite opposition from labor officials who said they feared that without civil service protections, employees would be treated unfairly.
But supporters of the bill said it would give universities more flexibility in determining pay raises, and even handing out merit increases.
No other university has proposed taking this step, but Jansen said they were watching how it worked at KU.
Jansen said the next step was that the KU employee group must have its plan reviewed by the regents. She said she hoped to get on the regents' agenda for June.
She said that employee sick leave, vacation, health insurance and pension benefits would continue as always. "We will still be state employees," she said.
The bill also requires that the new personnel system have disciplinary and grievance processes, rights of appeal and due process procedures.
The major issue, Jansen said, was salaries. "The salaries for Civil Service have always been negotiated last. We're tired of being used to balance the budget," she said.