BARSTOW The union that represents Barstow's school district support staff started the process to change the way staff are hired a act aimed at removing the hiring director.

The Barstow Unified School District uses what's known as "the merit system" to hire classified employees, such as custodians and maintenance workers. Through the merit system the Personnel Commission, an entity separate from the school district, hires classified employees and performs certain job evaluations. Teachers and administrators are hired directly by the district.

Barstow's Classified School Employees Association notified the school board that they will begin circulating a petition to eliminate the merit system, which will disband the Personnel Commission and remove its director, Amy Mitchell, and the three commissioners who oversee her. If the group can obtain signatures from 40 percent of the district's 350 classified employees, the system could be eliminated, leaving Mitchell out of a job. If the Personnel Commission were removed, classified employees would then be hired by the district office.

Several classified employees said Mitchell is the reason for the attempt to eliminate the merit system, which some agreed was a good move.

Cori Brogan, a hall monitor at Barstow High School, said she's a proponent of CSEA's initiative to remove the merit system. She said she didn't have much of an opinion on whether the merit system should stay as long as employees are hired based on who's best for the job. But she did have an opinion about Mitchell.

"I think she's not meeting the needs or listening to the concerns of the classified employees," Brogan said.

Mitchell is relatively new to the district. She's been employed only since July 2010. Soon after she began Mitchell made what she called "unpopular" decisions: to stop letting test-takers review the correct answers after taking the test, and to implement a second, performance-based test in addition to the written test. She said she made these changes to ensure the most qualified employees are hired for positions.

"My job is to balance the needs of the district with the needs of the classified employees," Mitchell said. "The mere nature of my job is to stand up for what's right and that makes me unpopular with certain groups."

CSEA President Dianne Patty said the biggest event spurring the dissention was the removal of Julie Grounds from her position as human resources assistant.

Grounds was promoted to the human resources position working for Mitchell in the Personnel Commission, Patty said. Prior to her demotion Grounds filed a hostile work environment complaint with the Personnel Commission. The day before Grounds' probation was completed she was demoted back to her former position.

CSEA filed a grievance with the school district and organized a demonstration outside of a Nov. 2 Personnel Commission meeting, where about 35 to 50 classified employees waved signs reading "Bring Julie back."

This is also not the first time CSEA has attempted to remove Mitchell from her position. In June, a month before Mitchell's probation period was to end, the classified employees made a formal complaint to the Personnel Commission and circulated a petition to give Mitchell a vote of no confidence. The attempt was unsuccessful.

At the Nov. 22 school board meeting, the board is voting to rehire Grounds for the human resources position in the Personnel Commission, Patty said. Grounds is being rehired due to a contract violation as she did not receive her five-month evaluation, mandated by the contract.

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