Pasadena Unified Board Eliminates District’s Decades-Old Merit Civil Service System

Some classified employees dispute legality of member vote

Published : Friday, September 28, 2018 | 4:43 AM

The Pasadena Board of Education. File photo

After first voting to accept the results of a September 20 election by classified employees, the Pasadena School Board voted unanimously Thursday to eliminate the District’s 39-year-old merit civil service system and dissolve its Personnel Commission.

The merit system was implemented at the Pasadena Unified School District in 1979. It has been used to screen, test, qualify and hire non-teaching District employees ever since, according to a California School Employees Association report.

A number of Employees Association members spoke out against the recent employees’ election and the subsequent results.

Much of the controversy centered around whether a “majority” of the total number of eligible voters should be mandated, or whether the count of just those members who actually voted on September 20 should be accepted.

The Board voted to accept the latter.

Of the 900 eligible California School Employees Association voters, 433 voters voted 308 to 125 to eliminate the merit system.

But Christine Quan, an attorney for the CSEA, said before the School Board vote that to eliminate the merit system was “the termination of due process, appeal rights, equity and fairness,” asking the Board not to accept the employees’ election results.

Ray Witmer, representing the Teamsters Union, responded that to reject the employee vote would be “an attempt to usurp the will of the 388 members who voted to eliminate the merit system.”

Added Witmer, “The issue only requires a majority vote.”

According to a June 28 Pasadena Unified staff report, the Superintendent’s office received a petition on June 6, 2018, consisting of 540 signatures calling for the termination of the merit system in the Pasadena Unified School District.

“All of the signatures were subsequently examined in order to determine: 1) whether the persons signing are classified employees of the District; and 2) whether the signatures were authentic. Of the 540 signatures, seven were duplicates, one was disqualified as no last name was given, and 17 signatures could not be authenticated, leaving a balance of 515 valid signatures,” the report stated.

“Per Education Code section 45319,” the report continued, “the Board must conduct an election by secret ballot upon receiving a petition calling for the termination of the merit system that is signed by at least 40% of all classified employees entitled to vote. The District currently employs 949 classified employees; 40% of that amount is 380. As the petition contains 515 valid signatures of classified employees, the threshold stated in the Education Code has been met.”

“We don’t need a majority of the registered voters,” said PUSD General Counsel Jeff Mardensosian, who added, “Merit systems don’t exist in 90% of school districts in California.”

A 2015 CSEA report on the merit system, however, states, “Today, in California’s Public Schools, there are over 100 merit system districts covering approximately 60 percent of classified employees.”

The first merit system in California schools was established in 1936, as an answer to a scandal in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a scandal that resulted in the firing of approximately 2000 classified employees .

This early beginning was the basis for today’s merit system, which was enacted into law in 1965. The legislation amended the existing law to allow classified employees to vote in the merit system in addition to the provisions that already allowed the local citizens to vote in the merit system and school boards to unilaterally adopt it, according to a CSEA report.

PUSD Board Member Patrick Cahalan, introducing a motion to accept the results of the election, said, “It would be a disservice (to those voting members) to come to a different conclusion.”

“We are following the law,” said School Board Member Kimberly Kenne.

Board President Lawrence Torres also said that “if the law’s intent was to have a supermajority of voters approve termination, it would have been written into the law.”

Members of the now-eliminated Personnel Commission will be absorbed into the school superintendent’s office, said Torres.

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