Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 7:32 am | Overcast 58º


Non-Teaching Employees Reject Merit System for Santa Maria-Bonita School District

Union members voted last week whether to change how personnel matters are handled

Santa Maria-Bonita School District Superintendent Luke Ontiveros listens during a board meeting Wednesday night. Non-teaching employees in the district rejected a proposed merit system for personnel matters.
Santa Maria-Bonita School District Superintendent Luke Ontiveros listens during a board meeting Wednesday night. Non-teaching employees in the district rejected a proposed merit system for personnel matters. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Classified employees, including maintenance staff, secretaries and other non-teaching workers, in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District have rejected a proposal to switch to a merit system for personnel matters.

The announcement of last week’s election results occurred during the district board of education meeting Wednesday night.

Members of California School Employees Association Chapter 129 were asked whether they wanted to switch to the merit system for personnel matters. 

Of the 337 votes cast, 262, or 77 percent, were against making the change, while 74, or 23 percent, voted yes. One vote was declared invalid.

“Since there was not a majority of votes in favor of the merit system, the merit system will not be applicable to the Santa Maria-Bonita School District,” said Helen Avedikian, human resources coordinator.

Union representatives had touted the merit system as ensuring fairness, efficiency and impartiality for hiring and promoting employees.

Last week, a pair of information sessions occurred at the Souza Student Support Center for the approximately 1,000 classified employees. Classified confidential employees and classified manage also were eligible to vote on the matter.

One member complained that the current hiring system seemed  to be about who a candidate knows, saying she was passed over for a job given to a less-qualified person.

Yet, the idea that employees had to take a test to get on the list for job changes prompted another member to note he and others have test anxiety.

Under the merit system, candidates would have to take written and oral tests to get on an eligibility list of candidates. The top three candidates on that list would be interviewed for the vacancy.

Neither the union nor the district would have run the merit system since it would operate independently. 

Instead of the district’s staff, a 3-member personnel commission would have handled hiring, promotion, transfer, and reclassification for all classified employees. 

The district and union would each appoint a personnel commissioner, with the pair to appoint a third member. They would have hired a personnel director.

Currently, those chores are handled by Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Patty Grady and her staff. 

Grady said she was surprised at the number of CSEA employees who voted to maintain the status quo and reject the merit system.

“However, I’m not going to be deaf ears to the concerns that have been brought forward, because I think legitimately things do need to be looked at. They came forward for a reason, so let’s look at those concerns and lets work on them together as a team,” Grady said. 

Before the results were revealed, Matthew Harris, president of CSEA Chapter 129, said the union had worked for two years to bring the item to a vote.

“I think the system broke down and we were forced to take this effort,” Harris said. 

In the two years, the district made no effort to work with the union or avoid the vote, he said.

Harris said the union filed three grievances against the district Wednesday, with another planned to be submitted Thursday. 

The chapter president said he would like the district to implement some aspects of the merit system, such as binding arbitration and some merit-system principles.

“I hope that we don’t have to go through this again,” he said, adding that he met with Superintendent Luke Ontiveros earlier Wednesday. “Going forward we need to fix this.”

At the end of Wednesday's meeting, Ontiveros said he and Harris had a good conversation. 

“I want to emphasize something said — this is a 'we' thing,” Ontiveros said. “We need to work on this. Taking singular issues and indicating that the singular issues are systemic problems is not very constructive.

"I'm really looking forward to working on this, because we all owe it to these wonderful little children that were here this evening — the preschoolers of the class of 2031," he added.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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