Ken Anderson apologized to a visitor in his Saddleback Valley Unified School District office one morning recently because he was dressed in a natty sports shirt and slacks rather than a suit.
He explained that the dinner honoring his retirement as the district's deputy superintendent was that night and, well, he hadn't been in the mood to don a tie.
"But I don't usually dress like this," he said. "I try to dress like a professional."
Professional. That was a word constantly used by others to describe the 55-year-old Anderson, Saddleback's No. 2 administrator, who will retire on Tuesday after 33 years in education.
Anderson has been the district's second-in-command for four years, after having served as a district administrator, principal and elementary school teacher, both in Saddleback and Santa Ana Unified.
"I've seen a lot of new schools and a lot of growth over the years, particularly in the last eight or nine," Anderson said of 20 years as an educator in South County.
In his current position, Anderson oversees the district's personnel department and negotiates its contracts with its employee union.
Despite the adversarial nature of their positions, Bonnie Chadd, president of the Saddleback Valley Educators Assn., the teachers' union, said she has the highest regard for Anderson.
"Ken is the ultimate professional," Chadd said. "We can go back-and-forth on the issues, but he does it in a good way. He's going to be missed."
Peter A. Hartman, Saddleback's superintendent, called Anderson "the glue that holds the district together. . . . He is tremendously capable of getting individuals to work together even under trying circumstances. He just knows how to say no nicer than anybody I know."
Anderson said he is leaving education because he wants to try his hand in private industry, namely a Santa Ana moving company. He said he is somewhat worried about the future of public education.
When he began as a teacher, he said, Santa Ana voters rejected a tax to help increase teachers' salaries. This past year, he had to oversee efforts to slash Saddleback's budget because of state funding cuts.
"I've never felt public education has been properly funded," he said. "But I think here in Saddleback we have made the best of the situation, and I'm proud of that."