The state's workforce has seen noticeable changes in recent years, with the number of unclassified employees in the executive branch exceeding the number of classified employees in 2018.
Unclassified employees work at will and can be fired at any time, whereas those who are classified serve under the Kansas Civil Service Act, which established policies and procedures for personnel matters, including hiring, advancement and benefits, and entitles employees to appeal disciplinary actions to the Kansas Civil Service Board.
A reader asked, "What is left of the state of Kansas Civil Service system after being mostly dismantled over the past eight years?"
Efforts under the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback included a 2015 law that allowed for many classified positions to be converted to unclassified status.
Since then, the state workforce has shifted accordingly, with many state employees opting to give up their classified status in exchange for pay raises or promotions.
On Dec. 1, 2018, the state's executive branch included 6,277 classified employees and 11,546 unclassified employees, according to the Department of Administration. Those numbers reflect a reversal of employment status from three years earlier, when there were 12,460 classified employees and 5,963 unclassified employees. The number of total active employees decreased from 18,423 in 2015 to 17,823 in 2018.
The numbers don't include the state's judicial and legislative branches, which have never had classified employees, or universities, whose employees have all been unclassified since 2015.
The number of appeals to the Civil Service Board has decreased from 27 in 2015 to 17 in 2018, according to the Department of Administration.
Going back further, in 2006, there were 19,277 classified employees, 2,815 unclassified employees and 80 Civil Service Board appeals.
The changes have been controversial, with proponents saying that increasing unclassified positions also increases freedom, flexibility and efficiency in staffing while opponents say the change strips workers of due process.
Sarah LaFrenz, president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, called the changes "truly abysmal," saying that eliminating civil service protections creates a culture of fear among employees who can be fired for no reason, making them less likely to speak up about issues of concern.
"There's no real job security, and it makes it harder to staff agencies," she said.
She said she is hopeful the new Democratic administration under Gov. Laura Kelly will bring increased protections for state employees.
"It takes a while to see the damage and then it takes a while to get out of it. We're going to be dealing with problems from this for quite a while," LaFrenz said.
Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, who carried the 2015 bill in the Kansas senate, said that any attempt to remove the provisions enacted in 2015 would be "an affront to employee freedom" and that being bound to a classified status "shackles employees in terms of how they can increase their income and opportunities within a state system."
Lynn said the decrease in appeals to the Civil Service Board also has been an improvement, calling such hearings "antagonistic."
"That's just nothing but a big distraction to have that kind of stuff going on," she said. "It takes away from the purpose of government, which is to serve the constituents and to serve the people."
Kelly voted against the 2015 legislation to move away from civil service protections.
Earlier this month, she submitted a budget to the Legislature that calls for $22 million for a 2.5 percent salary increase for state employees, excluding the judicial system and legislative branch, along with $3 million to improve wages of officers in the Kansas Department of Corrections.