In a surprise announcement Thursday, the superintendent of the Orange County Department of Education said he will step down April 6.
John F. Dean, who has held the elected position for 10 years and was credited with helping shepherd schools through the county’s 1994 bankruptcy crisis, told board members he plans to travel and spend time with his family, including his first great-grandchild, who is expected in May.
“I think it’s time,” said Dean, 74. “A lot of people were surprised. My wife wasn’t.”
Dean said that by retiring with two years left on his term, he will give the county Board of Education a chance to appoint a successor who can then seek election to the post with a high public profile.
“If I just chose not to run again, anyone who thinks he or she is qualified” might be elected, he said. “If they appoint, they can choose the kind of qualities they would want to work with.”
Board member Elizabeth Parker, who is on the search committee created Thursday, called Dean’s retirement decision “a selfless act.” She said she expects board members to fill the post by mid-March.
Parker said the post is one that could easily be captured by “anti-public education people” who might want to dismantle county programs.
Joan Cohen, co-president of the Orange County League of Women Voters, said she hopes board members will seek public input during their search for Dean’s successor.
Dean said he long considered retiring and, although he was affected by the unexpected death last month of Saddleback Valley Unified’s superintendent, Peter A. Hartman, he said it didn’t affect this decision.
“Here was a man who worked so long and so hard, and he didn’t have a chance to enjoy one day of the fruits of his labor,” Dean said. “It’s just one of those things you think about.”
The Department of Education oversees fiscal services for each of the county’s 28 school districts and acts as its own school district, enrolling students with severe handicaps or discipline problems who cannot stay in their home districts.