Prior to the adaptation of a merit system, a “spoils system” was widely used in local, state and federal government to fill public offices. This flawed system peaked its popularity in 1841 where thousands of unqualified people were employed into government positions based on their connections. Shortly after the Civil War came the realization that qualified workers needed to be hired to keep up with the growth of the government. Efforts of reformers to set regulations to public service office appointments were authorized in 1871 but failed after a couple of years. The merit system reemerged in 1883 as a result of a public demand for civil service and the great efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt. The Civil Service Act of 1883 also known as The Pendleton Act deemed it unlawful to practice patronage appointments of government positions.

In the following years, state and local civil service systems flourished, but it was not until 1936 that the first merit system law for school districts was established. California became the leader in the national movement toward merit systems in school systems where, as a result of a disgraceful patronage system in one of our larger school districts, more than 700 employees were fired on the day after an election to make room for political "spoilsmen." 

There are more than 100 merit system school and college districts in California which employ almost 60 percent of the total classified (non-certificated) school employees in the state. A merit system may be voted into a district by local Board of Trustees action, by a majority vote of the district's classified employees, or by a majority vote of the voting electors of the school or college district. 

With the advent of collective bargaining in the public educational field, functions performed by personnel commissions take on an added significance. The necessity of objective information and classification decisions unaltered by labor or management pressures, protection of the 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 or college district and to the benefit of the general publi