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County : Jury Questions Purpose of Education Department

In a report that drew an immediate, blistering response, the Orange County Grand Jury contended Monday that the Orange County Department of Education is duplicating services provided by individual school districts and should be restricted to performing largely administrative tasks.

With conclusions and recommendations similar to those of previous grand juries that studied the department, the panel said there was “no financial justification for the continuation of the OCDE, except to offer mandated services.”

The grand jurors said that county departments of education were established at the turn of the century to unite California’s scattered school districts under the state Department of Education.

But while school districts in less populous communities and in rural areas continue to rely on county resources, in areas such as urban Orange County, individual districts can perform their own services or contract with larger districts, rather than the county, to provide the assistance.

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The panel said that schools for juvenile delinquents, which are operated by the Probation Department but for which the Educaton Department handles teaching chores, could be administered by the school districts in which they are located.

The jury said local districts could also take over operation of special schools for severely handicapped youngsters, which are now run by the Education Department. In addition, the State Department of Education could handle teacher certification, the panel said.

The Education Department’s superintendent, Robert Peterson, said in a statement that the jury’s report was “biased and invalid.”

The report quoted 1969 and 1970 jury studies on the department that Peterson said were “ancient history” and erroneous when they were published.

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“The effort to produce a dependable study was an amateurish bungle, with unjustified findings aimed at reaching previously decided positions,” Peterson said.

Peterson’s deputy, Fred Koch, said the report “reads like a comic book,” and its authors deserve “an F for their research, because they just didn’t do it.”

The jury said the Education Department should be restricted to mandated services, which Koch said included activities such as setting revenue limits for school districts, issuing teachers’ checks, refereeing appeals over pupil attendance, and overseeing reorganizations of school districts and boundary changes.


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