The number of full-time state employees increased by 108 last fiscal year to slightly more than 57,000 as their ranks grew at the state's higher education institutions and numbers declined at state agencies, according to Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research reports.
The slight uptick in the number of full-time employees in state government in fiscal 2022 comes on the heels of a 1,674 full-time employee drop in fiscal 2021 from fiscal 2020. Fiscal 2022 started July 1, 2021, and ended June 30.
The 1,674-employee decline in fiscal 2021 was the largest drop over a fiscal year since Act 110 of 1985 started requiring agencies and higher education institutions to report employment. The largest previous decline was 754 employees in fiscal 2018, also under departing Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The ranks of full-time state employees have declined in four of the past five fiscal years.
The ranks of full-time employees declined for the first time in fiscal 2011 by 71 and then again by the same amount in fiscal 2014 under then-Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat.
The bureau's reports on full-time employees in state government provide a snapshot of general trends in the ranks of full-time state employees, though state entities occasionally make reporting errors that skew the figures. The figures for each fiscal year are based on the bureau's computation of the quarterly average of the last quarter of each fiscal year.
According to the state Department of Finance and Administration, state government's total salary and benefits costs totaled $4.554 billion in fiscal 2022 -- up from $4.222 billion in fiscal year 2021 that the agency reported a year ago.
The total salaries reported increased to $3.505 billion in fiscal 2022 from $3.248 billion in fiscal year 2021, and total benefit costs increased to $1.048 billion in fiscal 2022 from $974 million in fiscal year 2021, based on finance department reports.
Total salary and benefits costs at the state's higher education institutions increased to $2.522 billion in fiscal 2022 from $2.283 billion in fiscal year 2021, while total salary and benefits costs increased to $2.032 billion in fiscal 2022 from $1.938 billion in fiscal year 2021.
The number of full-time employees at the state's higher education institutions increased to 28,311 in fiscal 2022 from 27,997 in fiscal year 2021, according to the bureau's reports.
Hutchinson said this increase needs to be studied more closely.
"The same focus on efficiency needs to be true in higher education; particularly with the need to make college more affordable for our students," the governor said in a written statement. "Higher education is independent and not under the management of the Governor's office."
The governor appoints the members of the boards of trustees that oversee the state's colleges and universities.
The number of full-time employees at the state's four-year institutions increased to 24,568 in fiscal 2022 from 24,309 in fiscal year 2021, while their ranks increased at the two-year colleges to 2,911 in fiscal 2022 from 2,857 in fiscal year 2021, and at four technical colleges to 831 in fiscal 2022 from 830 in fiscal year 2021, according to the bureau's reports.
The number of full-time employees at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences increased slightly to 11,098 in fiscal 2022 -- up from 11,076 in fiscal year 2021 -- and their ranks slipped slightly at University of Arkansas, Fayetteville to 4,158 in fiscal 2022 from 4,209 in fiscal year 2021, the bureau's reports show.
UAMS spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said staffing shortages continue to be an issue for UAMS as with other health systems.
"The availability of health care professionals is not accelerating at the rate of demand," she said in a written statement. "This small increase in employees is a reflection of recruitment efforts to address the health care needs of Arkansas."
For example, in fiscal year 2022, UAMS increased "our living wage to a minimum of $15 an hour to help address wage gaps that prevented us from recruiting front-line staff," Taylor said. "We also increased our RN base wage, which placed us in a better position to attract nurses to UAMS. We were not able to give across-the-board raises to employees in [fiscal year] 2022."
UA-Fayetteville spokesman Mark Rushing said the slight decrease in the number of full-time employees at UA-Fayetteville in fiscal 2022 can be attributed to staffing challenges in a highly competitive job market.
"Potential candidates and employees have increased options including higher compensation sometimes offered by major corporations in Northwest Arkansas and/or full-time remote work with organizations outside of the area," he said in a written statement. "We also face the same challenges that others are experiencing across the nation for staffing front-line roles such as bus drivers, skilled trade positions and others."
The salary increases for fiscal year 2022 were a 1.5% cost-of-living adjustment for classified staff and 1.5% raise pool for non-classified staff and faculty distributed based on merit and performance, Rushing said.
Full-time employees at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro dipped to 1,616 in fiscal 2022 from 1,669 in fiscal year 2021, while their ranks at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock increased slightly to 1,432 in fiscal 2022 from 1,399 in fiscal year 2021, at the University of Central Arkansas to 1,366 in fiscal 2022 from 1,271 in fiscal year 2021, at Southern Arkansas University to 495 in fiscal 2022 from 430 in fiscal year 2021, and at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to 588 in fiscal 2022 from 579 in fiscal year 2021, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research.
Arkansas State University in Jonesboro averages about 1,610 full-time employees during a given academic year, and fluctuations in the quarterly report can be a matter of hiring timing, late terminations or, more recently, the pandemic, said ASU System spokesman Jeff Hankins.
UCA spokeswoman Fredricka Sharkey said, "We actually recognized an error in the BLR submission," and that information has been corrected and resubmitted.
UCA's number of full-time employees increased to 1,354 in fiscal 2022 from 1,330 in fiscal year 2021, she said.
"We believe the increased number of employees is due to the campus returning to more normal operation after covid-19."
The full-time employee figures inched down at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture to 1,136 in fiscal 2022 from 1,154 in fiscal year 2021, at Arkansas Tech University to 958 in fiscal 2022 from 1,035 in fiscal year 2021, and at Henderson State University to 350 in fiscal 2022 from 393 in fiscal year 2021, the bureau reported.
The number of full-time employees at the University of Arkansas at Monticello increased by 151 to 519 in fiscal 2022 from 368 in fiscal year 2021, and their ranks at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith increased by 123 to 625 in fiscal 2022 from 502 in fiscal year 2021, according to the bureau's reports.
But Nick Fuller, assistant director of finance at the state Division of Higher Education, said UA-Monticello's increase was overstated because of incorrect double reporting of part-time employees as full-time, and UA-Fort Smith under-reported its figures in fiscal year 2021 because it did not include adjunct faculty in its full-time employee count.
UAM had 373 full-time employees at the end of fiscal 2022, said UAM spokeswoman Kelsey Englert.
UA-Fort Smith's vice chancellor for finance and administration, Carey Tucker, said "The numbers increased for reporting purposes, but we did not increase that number of full-time employees."
UA-Fort Smith recently had 502 full-time benefits-eligible employees and the additional employees are adjunct faculty, he said.
The number of full-time employees at state agencies dropped to 28,775 in fiscal 2022 from 28,981 in fiscal year 2021, according to the bureau's reports.
This includes 21,882 full-time employees in executive branch agencies and cabinet departments in the last quarter of fiscal 2022 compared to 22,011 in the last quarter of fiscal 2021 -- a reduction of 129 employees based on the bureau's reports.
Asked whether the decline was intended and/or the result of the difficulty that agencies are having filling positions, Hutchinson said the "long-term goal of my transformation of state government was to decrease the number of employees needed.
"The agencies continue to look for ways to eliminate duplicating services across departments," he said. "One benefit of transformation is the shared service model between agencies."
With this year being an election year, there is a natural decrease in employment due to transitioning to a new administration, Hutchinson said.
"However, state government also faces the same challenges as the private sector in battling an extremely competitive job market."
State records show the number of full-time executive branch employees has declined from 26,108 in fiscal 2015 to 22,882 in fiscal 2022, a reduction of 3,226 employees, while the average salary has increased from $38,305 in fiscal 2015 to $50,189 in fiscal 2022.
Hutchinson has been governor since January of 2015, midway through fiscal year 2015, and is considering a potential bid for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.
Hutchinson has proposed setting aside $41 million general revenue in the state's general revenue budget for fiscal 2024 that begins July 1, 2023, for a new pay plan for state agency employees.
"My pay plan recommendation would make state employee salaries more comparable to the private sector so we can recruit and retain top talent," he said.
In fiscal 2022, he granted executive branch employees a 2% cost-of-living raise in February and subsequently authorized agencies to spend up to 5% of their total personnel costs on merit raises at the start of fiscal 2023, citing the rising cost of living.
Earlier this month, he proposed a $314 million increase in the state's general revenue budget to $6.33 billion in fiscal 2024, with $200 million of increased general revenue earmarked for the public schools to help boost teachers' salaries.
The number of full-time employees at the state Department of Human Services increased to 6,596 in fiscal 2022 compared to 6,502 in fiscal year 2021, the Bureau of Legislative Research's reports show.
Department of Human Services spokesman Gavin Lesnick said that's likely due to a combination of factors.
"We have recognized some positive changes in the labor market over the last year," he said in a written statement. "We have also actively promoted job openings in ways that emphasize the benefits of working at DHS on a variety of platforms, including digital campaigns on Facebook and LinkedIn. And we have also been focusing on practices aimed at retaining employees once they are hired."
The number of full-time employees at the state Department of Corrections dipped to 4,513 in fiscal 2022 from 4,672 in fiscal year 2021, the bureau's reports show.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Cindy Murphy said "we have 4,593 as an average for the last quarter of 2021." The Department of Corrections did not plan to reduce the number of full-time employees in fiscal 2022, she said.
"We are constantly working to fill vacant positions in this challenging economy," Murphy said in a written statement. "We recruit prospective employees using social media, hiring events, yard signs, billboards, radio and television ads. We will also advocate for compensation increases to make the department more competitive in this economy."
Judd Deere, a spokesman for Republican Governor-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said one of Sanders' top priorities will be to limit the size and scope of government by looking for opportunities for efficiency and utilizing new technologies to better serve Arkansans.
"After taking office, she intends to look strategically at each agency and see what the goals and metrics are, hold those agencies accountable to those goals, and then rid the department of wasteful spending, returning the savings to taxpayers," he said in a written statement.
"Governor-elect Sanders believes the state must recruit and retain hardworking and well-qualified talent to meet the needs of Arkansans, and she will continue to engage Governor Hutchinson and her legislative partners in the ongoing transition to ensure her administration's budget priorities meet that goal," Deere said.