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Merit System


The merit system (civil service) is not new. Early in the 1800s 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 of patronage to spark a 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.


There are over 100 merit system school districts in California which employ almost 60% of the total classified (non-certificated) school employees in the state. A merit system may be voted into a district by local board of education action, by a majority vote of the district's classified employees, or by a majority vote of the voting electors of the school district.


  • Selection and promotion based on merit and fitness, as determined by competitive examinations.
  • Retention on the basis of demonstrated performance.
  • Classification of positions on the basis of the duties and responsibilities actually performed.
  • Compensation pursuant to the like pay for like work principle.
  • Appeals from administrative action before a neutral third party.



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 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 California Education Code provides that personnel commissioners shall classify positions, hear appeals, and prescribe functions as 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 educational field, functions performed by personnel commissioners take on added significance. The necessity for 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 district and to the benefit of the general public.