BARSTOW Barstow school staff voted Thursday in what could be a "historic" change for the district: to remove the classified staff hiring system the district has used for 45 years.

About 300 Barstow Unified School District classified staff, such as custodians and office assistants, had the opportunity to cast their vote Thursday on whether to keep the Personnel Commission an entity separate from the district, responsible for screening and testing classified employees through "the merit system."

BUSD is among 10 percent of districts who hire classified staff through this system. The purpose of the system is to ensure employees would be hired without bias or nepotism by ensuring the most qualified candidates are considered first for the job.

During a special meeting Thursday, a tabulation committee counted the votes and announced the preliminary results, which were not available by press time. The results of the vote will be certified by the School Board during their regular meeting June 12.

Since BUSD adopted the merit system in 1967, there has been one other attempt to remove it. The district first attempted to remove the Personnel Commission in 1996 by putting the issue to election from voters in the district, but that initiative failed by a two-thirds vote.

"Oh, it's huge," Interim Superintendent Jeff Malan said. "For this to happen, for the employees to do this and for this to take place it would be very historic."

If more than half of the classified employees voted to remove the merit system, the hiring of classified staff will be absorbed by the district starting July 1. The district already hires teachers and administrators.

This will represent an annual cost savings of $141,000, said Personnel Commission Director Amy Mitchell. This figure represents her salary, benefits, the Commission's expenses and the $50 stipend for the three commissioners.

Mitchell questioned whether removing the system will truly save the district money, considering they will need someone with her expertise to perform her duties, including writing examinations and checking references. Additionally, the Commission could save the district from wrongful termination suits and wrongful hiring suits costing tens of thousands.

Probably the greatest impact from a change in the hiring system is that the education code outlines a less stringent process for qualifying candidates for interviews than does the merit system, Mitchell said. For example, under the merit system, only the top three test takers are moved to the interview process with the site hiring managers. Without the system, five or more candidates could be qualified for an interview with the manager.

"It goes back to the possibility of the getting the job based on who you know, rather than what you know, which is the whole reason the merit system exists," Mitchell said.

But Classified School Employees Association President Dianne Patty doesn't feel having a larger pool of interviewees would result in hiring someone less qualified.

"They would still all qualify. They all would have to qualify to a certain score or percentage on their test," Patty said.

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