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Grand Jury Study Finds Schools in Compton Troubled but Recovering

August 11, 1985|WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — Although the Compton Unified School District continues to face critical social and financial problems, a two-month study by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury has concluded that the long-troubled system is on the road to recovery.

The grand jury recommended that school maintenance workers be better paid and that administrators do a better job of communicating with teachers and the community they serve.

In general, however, the study supported what many officials have contended for some time--that the 38-school system suffers mostly from a "pattern of neglect" wrought by previous administrations and an ongoing assault by the region's more than 40 "youth gangs."

$1.3 Million in Arson

"These gangs perpetrate the majority of vandalism and are believed to be responsible for over $1.3 million in arson property damage for 1984-85," the panel said in a 73-page report.

To combat the attack, the grand jury recommended that the school district's security force be made up of "certified peace officers" trained in the use of weapons and empowered to make arrests.

District Supt. Ted Kimbrough, who also advocates employing sworn officers, said he welcomed the grand jury's investigation and praised its report as "fair" and "credible." Although grand jury recommendations are non-binding, Kimbrough said several of them would be carried out in time for the start of fall classes.

"At first, I dreaded the (grand jury's) interference," Kimbrough explained, "but on second thought, it was an opportune time to address and put to rest some of the allegations which have swirled around my two-year tenure" as the district's chief executive.

Mismanagement Charged

The grand jury report focused on a series of accusations leveled by the district's teachers union in May, at the height of contract negotiations. Union officials wrote county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and several other political figures to charge that Kimbrough and the school trustees were mismanaging the system. Hahn passed the letter on to the grand jury. The grand jury hired the national consulting firm of Deloitte Haskins & Sells to assist in performing the study.

The teachers union had complained that facilities were crumbling from decay and that employees were desperately demoralized by low pay and increasing crime on the campuses. Union officials charged in their letters that "teachers are being raped in their classrooms in broad daylight" and that "the use and sale of drugs is common on many campuses."

All of those factors, union officials contended, were combining "to diminish the quality of life for the children affected" and "contribute to many of the other problems which exist in this area."

The consulting firm and selected grand jurors questioned more than 26 school administrators, teachers, union leaders, law enforcement officials and elected trustees before the grand jury concluded that many of the union's complaints were either misguided or somewhat exaggerated.

The grand jury confirmed that many Compton school buildings--which have an average age of 40 years--are in serious disrepair, but it put most of the blame at the feet of past officials and not Kimbrough.

'Stopgap' Maintenance

"During the past 15 years, physical maintenance has consisted primarily of stopgap measures to repair damage rather than capital outlays to restore the buildings and sustain their useful lives," the panel said.

Last year, Kimbrough's administration budgeted more than $4.4 million for maintenance, but was able to spend only about $2.4 million because of an unexpected decline in state funding. That was still twice what his predecessor, Aaron Wade, had annually set aside, the grand jury said.

The financial picture is not expected to improve very soon. Although officials have a five-year plan for maintenance expenses, "even if the district was able to meet this schedule as planned," the grand jury concluded, "it is likely that emergency situations would still occur given the serious and dilapidated state of the districts' buildings."

The crime problems, while also real, the grand jury said, seemed not quite as sweeping as the teachers believe.

For example, "only one instance has actually been reported" of a teacher being raped, the grand jury said. (That attack occurred early this year.) "In spite of this one unfortunate incident, teachers and plant workers indicated they generally felt safe within the environment of the schools by following reasonable precautions."

The panel reported finding little reason to be critical of Kimbrough's administration, saying that it "has made positive contributions toward correcting the problems it inherited."

Charges Not Validated

"I think it's important that the . . . basic charges that were made were not validated," Kimbrough said, "and that the grand jury's investigating team found that the school district was moving ahead and doing what it's supposed to be doing. We've taken action to correct many of the things that have been alleged."

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