School Board Appoints New Merit Commissioner

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday January 25, 2008

The Berkeley Board of Education on Wednesday approved the appointment of Dan Lee to the Merit Commission. 

The board had interviewed both Lee and former merit commissioner Roy Doolan on Dec. 19. They voted 4-1, with board president John Selawsky abstaining, to appoint Lee. 

Doolan, whose three-year term came to an end on Dec. 1, told the Planet before his interview that the school board might not reappoint him because he took an independent position on budget allocations, one out of step with the board’s wishes. 

He 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.  

District superintendent Michele Lawr-ence, in an interview with the Planet in December, described Doolan’s concern as premature. 

Doolan, currently in New Zealand, could not be reached for comment after the vote. 

“The board has the right to choose its own appointees on the committee,” said school board president John Selawsky. “The board just felt that a change of scenery might help. We have been arguing about the real duties and functions for a long time. One of the main things is whether the Merit Commission can allocate a budget by itself.” 

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. 

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. 

Doolan had wanted to pay 100 percent of the director of the classified personnel’s salary from the commission’s budget, which had been the case about two years ago, but Lawrence had pushed for paying 80 percent of the salary out of the district budget, a move Doolan said limited the commission’s power. 

Lawrence contended that the shift had been suggested to cut back on money in all the departments in the district when it was in financial trouble. 

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. 

“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,” wrote former board president and board member Joaquin Rivera. 

Rowland wrote back saying that the commission’s independent status was outlined in the Education Code. 

“There has been no response to the letter we sent to the board and it’s become evident that there was some misunderstanding about the role of the board and the role of the commission,” Rowland told the Planet Wednesday. “My chief concern is that the autonomy of the Merit Commission be maintained. If the Merit Commission and the board hold a common meeting once a year, as happens in other districts, it would create better understanding.” 

Lee, a former nutrition services director for the Berkeley district and for the Hayward school district, is a graduate of Berkeley High School and UC Davis. His children attended Berkeley public schools. 

“I think it’s very important the way employees are treated in the district,” he told the Planet Thursday. “The training of employees so that they can go up in the ranks has always interested me. I am familiar with the education code and I totally agree with the idea of an independent Merit Commission.”