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Los Angeles Community College District Personnel Commission

Its Inconsistent Practices and Inadequate Policies Adversely Affect District Employees and Job Candidates, Leading to Concerns About the Fairness of Its Decisions

Report Number: 2020-111



The Los Angeles Community College District (District) is one of 73 community college districts in California and has nine colleges located throughout Los Angeles County. The largest community college district in the United States, with almost 230,000 students enrolled during the 2019–20 school year, its mission is to foster student success for all individuals seeking advancement by providing equitable and supportive learning environments.

District Employee Groups

Classified Employees

Employees who work in nonacademic positions, including custodians, accountants, and administrative analysts. Four unions represent most of the District's 2,300 classified employees; of them, the American Federation of Teachers College Staff Guild (staff union) represents about 1,300 District classified employees.

Academic Employees

Employees who teach students, provide library and counseling services to students, and provide supervision of instructional and student services. They include faculty members, librarians, counselors, and administrators. Academic employees are the single largest employee group in the District.

Unclassified Employees

All employees not included in the classified or academic groups, including part-time student workers.

Source: The Commission's classified employee handbook, eligibility lists, and website; the staff union website; and the District's collective bargaining agreements.

The District's Board of Trustees (Board) establishes rules and regulations for the government and operation of the District's colleges. The Board consists of seven members whom District voters elect and one nonvoting student member whom the associated student organizations select. The elected members serve four years in office, while the student member serves one year. The Board generally meets twice a month to make decisions regarding the District's governance, such as approving its budget and educational programs and establishing student fees.

State law assigns responsibilities related to certain District employees to its Personnel Commission (Commission), which is the focus of this audit. According to the Commission, it is an independent body composed of three commissioners who serve staggered three‑year terms and who can be reappointed indefinitely. The Commission's personnel director (director) and 14 other positions (Commission staff) advise the commissioners on personnel decisions. Figure 1 identifies the Commission's responsibilities, which we describe in more detail below.

The Commission's Roles and Responsibilities

The District organizes its 6,600 employees into three groups, as the text box describes. Each employee group has its own employment policies, processes, and procedures. The Commission's statutory responsibilities relate to the District's classified employees and include categorizing those employees into classified positions and recommending salary schedules (salaries) for the classified employees to the Board. When classifying employees, the Commission uses a classification description, which it updates about every five years. This description includes the classification's title, typical duties, and minimum qualifications. Commission rules state that job positions in the same classification must require the same level of education and experience and be paid according to the same salary range.

Figure 1

The Board, District, and Commission Have Distinct Roles and Responsibilities

A figure describing the composition, mission, and responsibilities of the Board, the District, and the Commission.

Source: State law, Board and Commission rules, District and Commission documents, and Commission staff interviews.

The Commission's Terms for Individuals Who Participate in Its Examination Process

Applicant: A person who has filed an application to take a merit system examination.

Candidate: A person who has taken one or more portions of a merit system examination.

Eligible Candidate: A person whose name appears on a merit system eligibility list, which is a list ranking persons who have qualified in all parts of a merit system examination.

Source: Commission rules.

The Commission is also responsible for administering the District's merit system, which guides the selection, retention, and promotion of classified employees through competitive examinations. To implement the merit system, state law requires that the Commission prescribe rules as may be necessary to ensure the efficiency of the service and the selection and retention of employees upon a basis of merit and fitness. These include rules for examinations and for classifying positions and employees. The Commission uses several terms to describe the individuals whom it screens through the examination process, as the text box describes. According to the assistant personnel director (assistant director), the Commission's involvement in this process generally begins when a college's personnel office notifies it of a vacancy that the District's chancellor and budget office have authorized to be filled. The Commission's involvement ends when it provides a list of eligible candidates (eligibility list) to the college's personnel office, which interviews qualified candidates and makes hiring decisions. Figure 2 describes the different steps in the examination process.

Individuals Involved in Conducting Commission Examinations

Examiner: A Commission employee who selects existing sections of previous examinations or develops new sections to make up the examination, selects raters, and oversees the examination process.

Rater: A District employee or individual from outside the District—typically from another public agency—with technical expertise or knowledge of the position who reviews the candidates' performance on the examination and assigns a numerical score.

Assistant director: The Commission employee who supervises each examiner's decisions, including approving an examination's content, selection of its raters, and its list of eligible candidates.

Source: Commission's financial aid technician rater orientation, Commission staff interviews, and the Commission's Selection Process Procedure Manual.

An examination may include several sections, such as an evaluation of a candidate's training and experience, as well as written, performance, and oral examinations. Although an examiner oversees the examination process and screens all applicants to determine whether they meet the minimum qualifications, the examiner does not evaluate candidates' performance on the examination. The examiner instead selects raters to score candidates' performance, as the text box describes. According to the assistant director, generally two or more raters score each candidate during in-person evaluations or interviews, and the Commission averages the overall scores from each rater to determine the candidate's final score for that examination section. The Commission then ranks the candidates on the eligibility list based on their overall score from the examination sections, seniority points from previous District employment, and other factors, such as their status as a military veteran.

A candidate's performance during the Commission's examination process only earns him or her a position on the eligibility list; it does not determine the ultimate selection of whom the District interviews or hires from among the candidates. State law requires these hiring managers to hire eligible candidates from the first three ranks on an eligibility list who are ready and willing to accept the position. According to the District's human resources department executive assistant (executive assistant), hiring managers interview candidates in the top three ranks and can interview candidates in lower ranks if eligible candidates in higher ranks are not ready and willing to accept the position. Managers base their decisions to hire individuals on those interviews rather than on the candidates' examination performance. Because the Commission is not involved in the interview stage of the District's hiring process, we did not review this stage.

Figure 2

The Commission and the District Each Have Roles in the Hiring Process

A flowchart that describes the different roles the Commission and District each have within the hiring process.

Source: Commission rules, District and Commission websites and documents, Commission staff interviews, and the Commission's Selection Process Procedure Manual.

* The Commission sometimes self-initiates job examinations after a reclassification, if Commission staff identify unclassified District staff performing classified work, or if the Commission expects vacancies in lower-level positions because of expected promotions.

Appointment of the Commissioners

Commissioners are generally appointed to three-year terms, and historically they have been reappointed multiple times. Neither the state law governing personnel commissions nor the Commission's rules establish requirements that limit the number of terms a commissioner can serve. As of January 2021, the Commission chair had been a member since 2001 and the vice chair had served since 2007. The third commissioner who served during our audit period was a member of the Commission for 11 years but left in February 2020 when she was not reappointed. The state chancellor of community colleges (state chancellor) appointed a new commissioner in March 2020.

Until recently, a seven-member committee recommended nominees for commissioner to the Board. The Board then recommended a nominee to the state chancellor, who formally appointed each commissioner. State law allows the District's classified employees to petition the Board to submit to an election the question of how personnel commission members are appointed. In September 2020, the Board announced that the employees had voted to change the process. Under the new process, the Board and the union that represents the largest number of classified employees each nominate one member to be appointed by the Board. The Board—rather than the state chancellor—formally appoints these commissioners, who then jointly appoint the third commissioner. The staff union provided notice of its first commissioner nomination—who will replace the current vice chair—in a public Commission hearing in December 2020. However, as of March 2021, the Board had not yet appointed this nominee.

District Employee Concerns Regarding the Commission's Practices

Classified employees, representative labor groups, and administrators have expressed concerns that the Commission has engaged in inconsistent practices and failed to apply its rules fairly, consistently, and in accordance with state law. Further, when the staff union conducted a November 2019 survey of classified employees, many indicated that they had lost confidence in the Commission's ability to function as a fair and impartial body. According to the union newsletter, the survey revealed that many classified employees were frustrated with the Commission for what they perceived as a lack of upward mobility, limited feedback, inconsistent practices, and improper interpretation of state law. As a result of this survey, the union petitioned the Board to change the way commissioners are selected, as we describe above. In addition, the survey—along with other concerns—prompted this audit.

When we reviewed responses to the union-administered survey, which included one open-ended question about employee experiences with the Commission, we found that 117 of the 130 employees who responded to that question about the Commission reported having negative experiences on a variety of issues, including eligibility determinations and classifications. However, only three of the 117 employees who reported having a negative experience with the Commission had a record of appealing a Commission decision, although some District employees separately told us that they feared retaliation or retribution if they questioned Commission practices.

Table 1

Employee Responses to a 2019 Union Survey Describe a Variety of Negative Experiences With the Commission

Total survey responses 975
Responses related to the Commission* 130
Positive comments 7
Topics outside the Commission's purview 23
Negative comments 117
Topics Described in Negative Comments:
Eligibility and qualifications 35
Classifications and reclassifications 26
Promotions 22
Examinations 25
Compensation 17
Working out of class 14
Other 48

Source: Analysis of the Commission-related responses to the union's 2019 survey and the union's count of the total number of responses. These responses were identified by the staff union.

* The survey included one open-ended question about experiences with the Commission, and responses included both negative and positive comments. Some responses had both negative and positive comments, and some included responses related to the Commission and topics outside of the Commission's purview; thus, the counts of negative responses, positive responses, and topics outside the Commission's purview total more than 130.

Many responses addressed more than one topic; thus, the counts of individual topics total more than the number of negative comments.

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