Supporting Education Through Merit
The California School Personnel Commissioners Association (CSPCA) is a professional service organization committed to providing high quality support to members in their efforts to get the most out of the Merit System. We promote the Merit System as a comprehensive human resource system for classified employees.
What is a "Merit System"?
The merit (civil service) system is not a new system. Early in the 1800s, the “spoils” or patronage system was a common method of filling government jobs. It took the tragedy of the shooting of President John Garfield by a disgruntled office worker in 1881 to focus enough attention on the practice to spark legislative reform. Congress passed the Civil Service (Pendleton) Act of 1882 which set up the first civil service system for federal employees to guard against patronage appointments. In the following years, state and local civil service systems flourished, but it was not until 1936 that the first merit system law for school districts was established. It was California that became the leader in the national movement to implement the merit system in school districts when, as a result of a disgraceful patronage system in the Los Angeles Unified School District, more than 700 non-teaching employees were fired on the day after a school board election in order to make room for hiring political “spoilsmen” for their positions.
The merit system is a method of personnel management which is designed to promote the efficiency and economy of the workforce and the good of the public by providing for the selection and retention of employees, promotional opportunities, in-service training, and other related matters on the basis of merit, fitness, and the principle of “like pay for like work.”
Philosophy of Merit
In our democracy, citizens have an expectation that governmental processes be conducted in a fair, efficient, and open manner, and that public institutions be accountable for representing the public interest. Merit System principles emphasize these values and provide a personnel selection system that is open to all and free from political interference. As school districts continue to experience systemic change resulting from social, financial, and political pressures, it becomes increasingly important that school administrators incorporate Merit System principles into every decision they make concerning classified employees.
School district personnel management should be implemented consistent with the following Merit System principles:
- Recruitment of job applicants should be from sources representing all segments of society, and selection and advancement should be determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition, which assures that all receive equal opportunity.
- All employees and applicants for employment should receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to political affiliation, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, disabling condition or sexual orientation.
- Equal pay should be provided for work of equal effort, skill, and responsibility.
- School district employees should be managed and treated fairly and consistently and be engaged in work that serves the best interests of students.
- Employees should be retained and promoted on the basis of merit, as measured by the adequacy of their performance and professional achievement.
- Employees should be protected from arbitrary employment actions and afforded due process rights consistent with applicable law.
Who administers the "Merit System"
The Personnel Commission is an independent body authorized by the state to be responsible for certain personnel matters affecting classified school employee. It is composed of three people appointed for three-year staggered terms. Personnel Commissioners must be known adherents of the principles of merit in employment, registered voters, and residents of the School District in which they are Personnel Commissioners.
Responsibilities of the Personnel Commission
The Personnel Commission has three core responsibilities as defined in the California Education Code.
These are as follows:
- Oversee a personnel management program based on merit principles that ensure the selection and promotion of employees is based solely on qualifications through competitive examination.
- Develop and administer policies governing employment matters to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of employees within the classified service.
- Conduct appeal hearings on matters involving employee disciplinary action, employment examinations, and personnel policies and procedures.
Duties of the Personnel Commission
- Establishes and maintains a position classification plan which includes creating job descriptions, setting minimum qualifications, and allocating classifications to salary ranges using standards that provide equal pay for equal work.
- Adopts guidelines to analyze jobs and develop valid employment examinations.
- Adopts rules and procedures to be followed concerning such employment subjects as applications, examinations, employment eligibility, hiring, promotions, discipline and other rules necessary to carry out classified personnel administration.
Advantages of the Merit System
- Ensures selection of qualified candidates solely on the basis of merit and fitness through a process of competitive examination.
- Removes appointments and promotions from the political and personal arenas.
- Assures that all concerned receive notice of position vacancies through public notice and announcement that includes duty/function statements and minimum eligibility requirements.
- Gives employees the right to appeal disciplinary actions and have a formal hearing before the Personnel Commission.
- Provides job protection in a former classification for employees who are promoted and required to serve a probationary period in the new classification. Should the employee not pass probation, the employee is returned to a position in the former classification.
- Requires that the District maintain and use the Personnel Commission Rules so that classified employees know the rules.
- Provides for consistency and assurances that changes in administrative personnel do not result in drastic changes in personnel procedures and policies.
- Provides for a probationary period of six months, rather than the one year in non-Merit System districts, for employees hired into classified positions.
- Assures that appointments to positions are made only from appropriate employment and eligibility lists.
History of the Merit System
The History of the Merit System gives the reader an in depth understanding why the Merit System was started, who started it, and from that knowledge understand why it is still an integral part of public education in California today.