This column originally appeared in the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.
Government inefficiency is such a trope that it’s a punchline in children’s movies. In Disney’s “Zootopia,” the Department of Motor Vehicles is run by sloths. This portrayal isn’t reflective of the individual employees, but it’s telling that even in an animal-filled utopia, we instantly recognize the sense of frustration that arises when facing sloth-like government inefficiency.
There has always been a level of government bloat and wastefulness that goes far beyond long lines at the DMV. Bright and innovative public servants are weighed down by public employees with poor job performance. California makes it too easy for incompetent employees to earn protected status as civil servants, who then become a permanent (and expensive) problem.
Our political leaders recognize the need for reform of the state’s civil service system. Earlier this summer, the Governor floated a proposal to increase the probationary period for government employees. It was quietly dropped, but it demonstrated how California’s short probationary periods for new hires limit the state’s ability to ensure the quality of state employees.
Good employees, the ones we want to keep, lose their motivation when their hard work isn’t recognized and rewarded. Bureaucratic hiring and promotion lists force California to retain and promote poorly-performing employees, so there’s no real incentive for the best workers to grow and challenge themselves. Those poorly-performing employees exacerbate the problem, and the whole cycle gets worse.
A six- or twelve-month probationary period is far too short, considering the enormous protection we afford to our civil servants. Extending that period to two years and modernizing an outdated state hiring and promotion system will help improve services for San Fernando Valley residents and businesses.
It’s much easier to terminate an employee during a probationary period than to take disciplinary action against an employee who has permanent civil service status. Granting protection to anyone who can hold down a job for a few months sticks the taxpayer with incompetent workers and decreases the morale of workers who actually benefit the system. A few bad apples can ruin the bunch.
The same goes for California’s teachers. The vast majority of California teachers are working hard to educate and inspire the next generation. But how must those hard-working teachers feel to be treated the same as colleagues who are not putting the effort in, and just don’t care? Unions have made it almost impossible to remove ineffective tenured teachers from the classroom, no matter how badly they are failing our children.
California has one of the shortest terms to achieve tenure in the nation. While in theory it takes two years, the reality is that principals must make hiring decisions long before the start of the school year. That means that principals only have a matter of months to observe the teacher’s performance in the classroom before deciding whether their jobs will be protected for the rest of their careers. Assemblymember Shirley Weber introduced legislation (AB 1220) which extends teacher probationary period to three years, giving high-quality teachers more time to grow into their role, and protecting our kids from bad teachers.
It’s time to clean up the inefficient system, protect our children, and reduce bureaucratic bloat. A longer probationary period is a step in the right direction for California. Longer probationary periods will allow the state to genuinely assess new state employees and teachers before we - taxpayers, parents, and businesses - guarantee civil service protections.