Merit System

What is it?

A structured personnel management system designed to promote the efficiency and economy of the workforce and the good of the public by providing for the selection, promotion, and retention of employees, without favoritism or prejudice on the basis of merit and fitness.


Who started it?

The merit (civil service) system is not new. Early in the 1800s “spoils” patronage was well established as a method of filling government jobs. Congress passed the Civil Service Act in 1883, setting up the first civil service system for federal employees to guard against patronage appointments. In 1933 one of the largest school districts in California fired more than 700 employees the day after an election to make room for political “spoilsmen,” resulting in the strong national movement toward merit systems in school districts. In 1936 the first merit system law for school districts was established.  Today the merit system is for classified public school employees what the civil service system is for other governmental employees.


What are the principles of a merit system?

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


Who uses it?

Approximately 100 merit system school district in California, employing almost 60% of all classified (non-teaching) school employees in the state. A merit system may be voted into a district by a majority of the employees of the school district.


Who administers it?

The Personnel Commission, an independent body of three persons appointed for three-year staggered terms, is the mainstay of the merit system. They are responsible for maintaining a merit system and for fostering the advancement of career service for such employees as governed by laws contained in the California Education.


Who needs it?

With the advent of collective bargaining in the public educational field, functions performed by personnel commissions take on added significance. The necessity for objective information and classification decision unaltered by labor or management pressures, protection of 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.