Kansas court system seeks funding increase for salaries

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, center, gives his State of the Judiciary address in the Kansas Supreme Courtroom Topeka, Kan., Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

? The Kansas court system is seeking a $20.3 million increase in state appropriations in the next fiscal year to improve the pay of judges and court employees whose salaries are up to 22.2 percent below those of their peers in other states.

The request came Friday after two studies conducted by the National Center for State Courts found that every job classification in the state’s judicial system was paid below market value, many employees are earning below the federal poverty level for a family of four and nearly one-quarter of magistrate judges are seeking other employment.

“As chief administrative officer of the Kansas judicial branch, my concern is efficient, effective management of our state courts,” Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said in a news release. “That includes making sure we are staffed to meet the needs of the communities we serve. Being able to offer pay appropriate to the market is essential to achieve that purpose.”

Nuss also noted that court employees have received only a 2 percent cost of living increase in the last eight years and that was overtaken by increased employee contributions to benefits.

“Because pay is not keeping pace with the market, Kansas courts are experiencing higher rates of employee turnover and are finding it more difficult to recruit new employees,” Nuss said.

One study also found that nearly one-third of judicial branch employees work more than one job and about 700 entry-level employees, such as workers in clerk’s offices and court services officers who supervise people on probation, are paid 17.8 percent under the market rate.

A second report found it would take a more than 22 percent increase to raise district magistrate judges’ salaries to market, and the judges who say they are looking for other work cite compensation as the main reason.

On top of the $20.3 million increase for fiscal year 2018, the court system is seeking another $20.4 million increase in fiscal 2019. That money would be used for employee raises, increasing magistrate judge pay by about 22 percent and bringing pay for district judges up to an average of states surrounding Kansas. The judicial branch’s budget for fiscal year 2017 was $133 million.