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School District Seeks Merit Commissioner

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday December 04, 2007

A member of the Berkeley Unified School District’s Merit Commission said the Berkeley school board may not have reappointed him because he took an independent position on budget allocations, one out of step with the board’s wishes.  

Merit Commissioner Roy Doolan, whose three-year term came to an end Saturday, received a letter from the board in August notifying him that they were opening up the application process and that he could apply for the position if he wanted to. “It may be that I was not reappointed because I took a position contrary to that of the school district and the school board,” he said. 

Comprised of three members—one appointed by the Board of Education, one appointed by the collective bargaining units and the third approved and appointed by both—the commission deals with issues of personnel management. 

Superintendent Michele Lawrence told the Planet Monday that Doolan’s concern was premature. 

“His term was over,” said Lawrence. “He is more than welcome to apply again. No decision has been made about anything yet. It doesn’t mean that he [Doolan] is off.” 

Board president Joaquin Rivera said that the district wanted to open up the process to the community. 

“We want to know who else is interested,” he said. 

According to Doolan and Commission Chair Margaret Rowland, who was chosen by both bodies acting jointly, the disagreement between the commission and the school board arose from the commission’s budget allocations beginning in late February. 

“The Education Code gives the Merit Commission the complete authority to set its own budget,” Doolan said. “In this particular case, the question was whether the salary of the director of classified personnel would be paid primarily out of the district’s budget or the commission’s budget. When the salary is paid out of the Merit Commission’s budget the commission has more authority to supervise the director of classified personnel. Otherwise the district calls the shots.” 

According to Doolan, the Merit Commission sought to pay 100 percent of the director’s salary from its budget. He said that two years ago the position had been fully paid by the commission budget, but Lawrence pushed for the change to pay 80 percent of the salary out of the district budget, a move, Doolan said, which limited the commision’s power. Lawrence took issue with Doolan’s comments. 

“When the district was in financial trouble some years ago, we tried to look at ways to cut back on money in all the departments in the district,” she said. “We shifted the director’s salary to another account to balance the General Fund.” 

“When we increased the budget allocation to 100 percent, it was an accounting entry that had no total impact on the district’s budget or on the duties performed by the director,” Doolan said. “Either way the funds are still coming from the district’s General Fund.” 

The County Board of Education approved the Merit Commission’s 100 percent budget allocation to pay the director’s salary in July. It will be effective until June 30, 2008. 

Doolan said he received a letter from the board in June which stated that he was not representing the interests of the school board. 

“Since you are the board’s representative to the commission, the board has asked that I express to you concerns we have on positions you have taken that we do not feel represent our philosophy and view-points,” the letter, signed by board President Joaquin Rivera said. “I want to assure my fellow board members that you do represent our views and that you will convey this position at the Merit Commission meetings.”  

Rowland responded through a letter to the board in September that its letter indicated a serious misunderstanding of the essential role of the Merit Commission.  

“Nowhere is there language indicating that any appointee is the representative of the appointing authority,” she wrote. “All three commissioners are charged with upholding the rules of the Merit System and the appropriate sections of the Education Code. In order to fulfill its mandate, and by statute, the commission must function as an independent body, representing neither the district nor the unions.” 

Rowland told the Planet that the clearest example of the need for independence was the commission’s role in hearings. 

“If there is a grievance against the district brought by an employee, the commission is the ultimate hearing body,” she said. “How could an unbiased hearing be conducted by ‘representatives’ of either the district or the unions?” 

Rowland added that she was disappointed that Doolan had not been reappointed. 

“It’s too bad,” she said. “He has a lot of experience and is a valuable asset. It’s very common that people serve for multiple years.” 

She said that the controversy over the commission’s independence had not yet been resolved. 

The school board may have also violated the mandates of the Education Code when it failed to announce the name of the person it intended to appoint to the commission by Sept. 30 and open up a public comment period within 30 to 45 days of the announcement. 

It passed a resolution in October which stated that the board would appoint someone to the Merit Commission at its first meeting in December and that a public hearing would be held within 30 to 45 days after the announcement. 

However, the board did not send out a public notice until Nov. 29 which stated that the deadline for applications was Dec. 12 and that interviews would be scheduled in January 2008. 

“They are way, way behind,” Doolan said. “I think the superintendent has failed to properly advise the school board on the rules and regulations of the Merit System.” 

Superintendent Lawrence said that there was no mandated time for the appointment. 

“There are no penalties for this,” she said. “The laws allow the board to take time for the interviews and the public hearing. Since the board had a tight agenda, they were not able to make the selection before.” 

Board president Joaquin Rivera echoed her thoughts but added that the board would pay more attention to the timeline in the future. 

“We never intend not to comply with the Education Code,” he said. 


The BUSD Board of Education is seeking qualified candidates for a board representative on the BUSD Merit Commission. The new merit commissioner must be: 

• A registered voter and a resident of Berkeley. 

• A known adherent to the principle of the merit system. During the term of service, a member of the commission cannot be an employee of BUSD or a member of the governing board of the school district or the County Board of Education. 

Applications will be forwarded to the Board of Education, and interviews will be scheduled in January 2008. Deadline for applications is Dec. 12, 2007. 

For more information contact: 644-6320 or