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Former Jurors Join Criticism of Education Department

Times Staff Writer

A group of former Orange County grand jurors, saying they found waste of taxpayer funds by the county’s Department of Education as long ago as 1977, endorsed Tuesday the 1984-85 grand jury’s call for elimination of the agency.

At a press conference in Santa Ana, the Grand Jurors Assn. of Orange County, composed of about 140 former jurors, endorsed the 1984-85 grand jury’s June report, which concluded that the Department of Education wastes money by duplicating services provided by local school districts.

When the June report was released, it was called “amateurish” and its conclusions “unjustified” by Robert Peterson, superintendent of the Department of Education. On Tuesday, Peterson said the leadership of the association was acting like a “kangaroo court.”

Reacting to Peterson’s initial criticism, the association Tuesday said the critical report was “essentially accurate and on target.” The former jurors also urged the 1985-86 grand jury to continue probing the Department of Education.

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Statement Issued

In a prepared statement, the association said: “Any county organization that has a $51-million annual budget should take public scrutiny seriously and not simply react defensively. As you are all aware, it is the grand jury’s primary function to serve as a county watchdog.”

Peterson on Tuesday reiterated his defense of the department and his criticism of the way the 1984-85 grand jury polled some teachers in the county for their views about the department, and the conclusion that most teachers found little use for services offered by the department.

Survey ‘Logically Wrong’

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Repeating earlier criticism, Peterson said the grand jury survey was “logically wrong in that 33 of the 43 questions asked were on topics that did not apply to teachers who were contacted.” He said that “of the 10 appropriate topics in the questionnaire, all were so vague that no accurate conclusion could be drawn from the results.”

Peterson also criticized the grand jurors for not allowing him and other Education Department officials to appear before them before they issued their critical statements.

“It is astounding that the grand jury association leadership would allow themselves to rubber-stamp a preposterous report without hearing both sides,” Peterson said. " . . . such one-sided partiality would make an independent observer conclude that kangaroo court justice is operating.”

Response Called Negative

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Charles Andresen of Orange, chairman of the 1984-85 grand jury’s education committee, on Monday conceded some questions on the survey might have been worded better, but he said the overwhelming response from teachers about the department was negative.

“No matter what we asked, or how many teachers we asked, it was clear that the response was going to be in this (negative) direction,” Andresen said.

James R. Gage of Newport Beach, foreman of the 1976-77 grand jury, said: “Our grand jury had much the same comment about (waste by) the Department of Education, and here it is nine years later and nothing has changed.”

The August rebuttal from Peterson and his department, Andresen said, “was essentially a defense of the quality of the programs they’re offering . . . . We’ve not challenged the quality of what they’re doing, just the system and the duplication.”

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The 1984-85 grand jury recommended that the state cut back the Orange County Department of Education so that it performs only a relatively small number of “state-mandated” services, such as monitoring budgets of the 28 school districts in the county. The grand jury said support services of the Department of Education can best be provided by the local school districts.


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