​Very simply, a merit system is a method of personnel management 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, in-service promotional opportunities, and other related matters, on the basis of merit and fitness.

Who Started it?

Theodore Roosevelt
"In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." - Theodore Roosevelt

Prior to the adaptation of a merit system, a “spoils system” was widely used in local, state and federal government to fill public offices. This flawed system peaked its popularity in 1841 where thousands of unqualified people were employed into government positions based on their connections. Shortly after the Civil War came the realization that qualified workers needed to be hired to keep up with the growth of the government. Efforts of reformers to set regulations to public service office appointments were authorized in 1871 but failed after a couple of years. The merit system reemerged in 1883 as a result of a public demand for civil service and the great efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt. The Civil Service Act of 1883 also known as The Pendleton Act deemed it unlawful to practice patronage appointments of government positions.

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 became the leader in the national movement toward merit systems in school systems where, as a result of a disgraceful patronage system in one of our larger school districts, more than 700 employees were fired on the day after an election to make room for political "spoilsmen."

Who Uses It?

There are more than 100 merit system school and college districts in California which employ almost 60 percent of the total classified (non-certificated) school employees in the state. A merit system may be voted into a district by local Board of Trustees action, by a majority vote of the district's classified employees, or by a majority vote of the voting electors of the school or college district. The merit system was first adopted in Santa Monica College as part of the Santa Monica City Schools by the Board of Education on May 9, 1938.

Who Administers it?

The Personnel Commission is the mainstay of the merit system. It is an independent body composed of five persons appointed for three-year staggered terms. Commissioners are lay persons 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 for fostering the advancement of a career service for such employees. To execute these responsibilities the State Education Code provides that the Personnel Commission shall classify positions, recommend salaries, hear appeals of disciplinary and dismissal matters and protests involving examinations, selection or appointment procedures, and prescribe rules related to a variety of personnel practices. Authority for Personnel Commission functions is provided by Sections 8860 through 88139 of the State Education Code.

Who Needs it?

With the advent of collective bargaining in the public educational field, functions performed by personnel commissions take on an added significance. The necessity of objective information and classification decisions unaltered by labor or management pressures, protection of the rights 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 or college district and to the benefit of the general public.

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