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Longtime Associate Supt. Habermehl to Take Over for Dean

County trustees appoint 20-year Education Department veteran to interim job over three other candidates. He plans to seek election in 2002.

March 08, 2001|JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County Department of Education trustees Wednesday appointed a longtime associate superintendent to the top job when elected Supt. John F. Dean retires next month.

The board took just a few minutes to choose William M. Habermehl, who has worked in the department for more than 20 years, from the four candidates for the interim position.

Habermehl pledged to "do everything in my power . . . to make Orange County a world-class education department." He said he plans to run for the office in the 2002 election.

Four of the five trustees enthusiastically supported that decision. Indeed, when Dean, who has held the post since 1990, announced his retirement last month, he said it was his intention to give the board a chance to appoint someone who could successfully win the upcoming election. At the time, board Vice President Elizabeth Parker called that "a selfless act."

But Trustee Kenneth Williams said he was concerned that the board was giving Habermehl an unfair advantage in the upcoming election by gracing him with the high visibility of the superintendent's job.

"Bill Habermehl is a fine man, and he'll do a fine job," said Williams, who abstained from the 4-0 vote. "I'm more concerned about the bigger picture. Let the voters decide."

Williams asked that the four candidates pledge not to run in the next election.

Only one contender, Darrell Opp, agreed to do so.

"I ask you to make a truly interim appointment," said Opp, an administrator in one of the county's regional occupational programs who has twice run against Dean for the superintendent's job. "Leave the decision for the future direction of this department in the hands of the voters, where it belongs."

The other candidates were Cameron McCune, an assistant superintendent in the Walnut Valley Unified School District; and Robert Nunez, an assistant superintendent at the Riverside County Office of Education. Both said they plan to run for the Orange County post in 2002.

Habermehl said teacher recruitment, special education funding and maintaining local control of schools would be among his top priorities. He also pledged to provide more technological support to the county's 28 districts.

The Department of Education oversees fiscal services for each of the county's school districts and acts as its own school district, enrolling students with severe disabilities or discipline problems.

Trustees also voted to set Habermehl's salary at $197,950 a year. He will take over the job April 6.

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