Merit System History

  • What is the Merit System?
    The merit system is a method of personnel management designed to promote the efficiency and economy of the service and the good of the public by providing for the selection and retention of employees, in-service promotional opportunities and other related matters on the basis of merit and fitness.

    Who started the Merit System?
    The merit (civil service) system is not new. Early in the 1800's, "spoils" patronage was well established as a method of filling government jobs. It took the tragedy of the shooting of President Garfield by a disgruntled office seeker in 1881 to focus enough attention on the practice to spark legislative reform. Two years later, Congress passed the Civil Service Act of 1883 (the Pendleton Act), 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. California was the leader when, as a result of a disgraceful patronage system in one of our largest school districts, more than 700 employees were fired on the day after an election to make room for political "spoilsmen".

    Who uses the Merit System?
    There are about 100 merit school districts in California which employ almost 60% of the Classified (non-Certificated) school employees in the state. A merit system may be voted into a school district by local Board of Education action, by a majority vote of the district's classified employees, or by a majority vote of voting electors of the school district. The Personnel Commission of the Conejo Valley Unified School District was established in 1974 upon unification of the Timber School District, Valley Oaks School District, and Oxnard Union High School District. Prior to unification, the Timber School District and the Valley Oaks School District operated under separate merit systems.

    Who administers the Merit System?
    The Personnel Commission is the mainstay of the merit system. It is an independent body composed of three persons appointed for three-year staggered terms. Commissioners are laypersons who must be known adherents of the merit principle. The Personnel Commission is responsible for maintaining a merit system for classified employees of the school system and fostering the advancement of a career service for such employees. To execute the responsibilities, the State Education Code provides that Personnel Commissioners shall classify positions, hear appeals and prescribe rules related to a variety of personnel practices. Authority for Personnel Commission functions is provided by Sections 45220 to 45320 and 88060 to 88139, inclusive, of the State Education Code.

    With the advent of collective bargaining in the public education field, functions performed by Personnel Commissions take on added significance. The necessity for objective information and classification decisions unaltered by labor or management pressures, protection of the right of non-represented employees and an independent body which can hear employee appeals in an impartial manner are all vital to the efficient and economic operations of a school district and to the benefit of the general public.

    Materials addressed to or intended for the Commissioners should be directed to the Secretary of the Commission in time for scheduled distribution and should specify whether the matter is intended for formal consideration or general information. Sensitive personnel issues may be discussed in closed session in accordance with the Brown Act. The Secretary, who is the Personnel Director, may convey informal communications.