School Superintendent Gives Up $800,000 In Pay

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

By Tracie Cone

FRESNO, Calif. -- Some people give back to their community. Then there's Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell, who's really giving back. As in $800,000 -- what would have been his compensation for the next three years.

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Until his term expires in 2015, Powell will run 325 schools and 35 school districts with 195,000 students, all for less than a starting California teacher earns.

"How much do we need to keep accumulating?" asks Powell, 63. "There's no reason for me to keep stockpiling money."

Powell's generosity is more than just a gesture in a region with some of the nation's highest rates of unemployment. As he prepares for retirement, he wants to ensure that his pet projects survive California budget cuts. And the man who started his career as a high school civics teacher, who has made anti-bullying his mission, hopes his act of generosity will help restore faith in the government he once taught students to respect.

"A part of me has chafed at what they did in Bell," Powell said, recalling the corrupt Southern California city officials who secretly boosted their salaries by hundreds of thousands of dollars. "It's hard to believe that someone in the public trust would do that to the public. My wife and I asked ourselves `What can we do that might restore confidence in government?' "

Powell's answer? Ask his board to allow him to return $288,241 in salary and benefits for the next three and a half years of his term. He technically retired, then agreed to be hired back to work for $31,000 a year -- $10,000 less than a first-year teacher -- and with no benefits.

"I thought it was so very generous on his part," said school board member Sally Tannenbaum. "We get to keep him, but at a much lower rate."

His move was so low-key, his manner so unassuming, that it took four days after the school board meeting for word of his act to get out to the community. There were no press releases or self-congratulatory pats on the back.

"Things like this are what America is all about," said friend Alan Autry, Fresno's former mayor, who played Capt. Bubba Skinner on the TV series "In the Heat of the Night."

"America is as much about overcoming obstacles in difficult times as it is opulence," Autry said. "This reminds me of the great sacrifices made throughout our history, especially the Great Depression."

No one has been more surprised about the positive reaction than Powell, a lifelong educator who didn't realize that what he did was newsworthy. He chuckles at his desk when yet another email arrives from a colleague blown away by his generosity. Two days after word got out he had received 200 messages on his Facebook page.

"When you make good choices, good things happen to you," said Powell, who tends to talk in the kind of uplifting phrases that also make him a sought-after motivational speaker.

He even sees as an asset his childhood contraction of polio, which left him with a limp and a brace, and now a lingering post-polio syndrome.

"It's the most spectacular thing that has happened to me in all my life," he said. "People stepped up to help me be successful."

Powell might credit others, but others say Powell's drive always has come from within. Despite the right leg brace and experimental operations to stop the growth of his healthy leg, he became a champion high school wrestler in Fresno and set a record for one of the most dreaded of all gym class drills -- the 20-foot rope climb, which he completed in 1.8 seconds. Today he carries a six handicap in golf.

After moving into school administration, he became deputy superintendent, and was appointed to his current job before running for the office in 2006.

The ordained Baptist minister, who serves on the board of a national anti-bullying group that sprang from the Columbine shootings, is so popular that he even counts among his friends his contract bargaining nemesis, the former head of the employees' union.

"For a leader to step up to help the budget is phenomenal," said Mike Lepore. "It gives you hope. It gives you the feeling that everything is being done to try to make education work. It's Larry. It really is."

Powell will still earn a six-figure retirement, especially hefty by the standards of California's farming heartland. But because his salary comes out of the district's discretionary budget, for the next three years he'll be able to steer the money he is giving up where he wants: to programs for kindergarten and preschool, the arts, and a pet project that steers B and C students into college by teaching them how to take notes and develop strategy skills.

"Our goal has never been to have things," Powell said of himself and his wife, Dot. "We want to give back."



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Dragon

Christians? Take note. THIS is how it works. THIS is how you live.

August 30 2011 at 1:48 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
The Richardson's

He is not the only one who has done this. Our's has done the same thing. The goverment has cut our budgets so deeply the don't have a choice. It is sad.

August 30 2011 at 1:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lilliput976

i hope you read these comments. you are ana amazing man and a true american!

August 30 2011 at 1:33 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
evfwsimmons

Hats off to you Mr.Powell! You have set THE standard. May the Lord bless the work of your hand, may the Holy Spirit guide you in every descision of truth and may warring angels of defense go before you, your family and all of those whithin your charge (directly/indeirectly). God does not predestine our descisons, He predistines the consequences of our descisons (VICTORY).......I truly beleive that you, Mr.powell are well within His will and He will recompense (you've chose to harvest young minds....how rewarding is THAT).

August 30 2011 at 1:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fymayawf

The word "amazing" is so over used it no longer has any meaning.

August 30 2011 at 12:42 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
ladylp003

Sorry for double post!

August 30 2011 at 12:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jdfrancis1

He took full retirement. How much is that per year? What's not obvious is that he could have drawn full retirement and full pay AT THE SAME TIME! Anyone see anything wrong with that? And, full retirement carries lifetime medical benefits as good as Congressmen get. I applaud his "selfless" act. Now let's stop the practice of retired persons returning to the payroll and collecting double incomes.

August 30 2011 at 12:25 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jdfrancis1's comment
watsonkbsj

Powell will still earn a six-figure retirement, especially hefty by the standards of California's farming heartland.

From the article. So, yeah, there is a problem.

August 30 2011 at 1:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
keggar63

the fact that he made a gesture to be decent is outstanding. you won't see more any other high-end professionals doing that.

August 30 2011 at 1:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ladylp003

Just briefing through here, but any negative comments on Mr. Powell.......the man, despite the negative, miserable, cynical mindset of some.....just did a positive, unselfish, superb example for others....ACT. He gave up HIS money FOR education, for a STATEMENT for education and cutting budgets that limit many necessary programs. As for "protect their goddamn pensions" ...he EARNED his pension, he obviously is set for a comfortable retirement, which MOST strive to achieve and he chose a profession that enabled him to do this (HIS rights!) and APPARENTLY is NOT greedy therefore giving up what he feels he does not need. FEW would EVER consider this and not want 'more, more, more'! While he did not seek publicity for this, the publicity he wants is to HELP the system, in any way. How the Hell do people take something like this and turn it into a bad thing!? Cynical, miserable people. And going out on a limb here (not really!)....but if I'm reading all correctly, why hasn't anyone fired back at Mr. aleckatzman and his cynical, disrespectful comments. 401k, IRA......uhhhh, isn't that what people sign up for in many careers, jobs? This is 'bad' why? HOW do you know Christine even has one, to fire that at her ? If your talking about the ridiculous amounts paid to many government employees, others then be clear in that!? AND.....Union IS what enables MANAGEMENT and many others to make high salaries, retirement plans, and so on so Big Bad Dads comment was wrong why? You interject many opinions, with no basis, no explanation, just cynical digs?! In plain words, what are the points of them!!?? Just to be negative? From the comments I would have to guess that you are not in a career job that offers IRA or 401K, therefore you 'don't need' them and would not protect it? You are against Union, so do not work for any company involved with? You do not make 6 figures and no one should? I don't get the rambling, sorry.

Mr. Powell, WELL DONE SIR! And well done in your anti bully involvement! I wish you a happy retirement when/if and I'd guess even in retirement you will still be involved. I ask all the negative people .....what have you done for society lately!?

August 30 2011 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ladylp003

Just briefing through here, but any negative comments on Mr. Powell.......the man, despite the negative, miserable, cynical mindset of some.....just did a positive, unselfish, superb example for others....ACT. He gave up HIS money FOR education, for a STATEMENT for education and cutting budgets that limit many necessary programs. As for "protect their goddamn pensions" ...he EARNED his pension, he obviously is set for a comfortable retirement, which MOST strive to achieve and he chose a profession that enabled him to do this (HIS rights!) and APPARENTLY is NOT greedy therefore giving up what he feels he does not need. FEW would EVER consider this and not want 'more, more, more'! While he did not seek publicity for this, the publicity he wants is to HELP the system, in any way. How the Hell do people take something like this and turn it into a bad thing!? Cynical, miserable people. And going out on a limb here (not really!)....but if I'm reading all correctly, why hasn't anyone fired back at Mr. aleckatzman and his cynical, disrespectful comments. 401k, IRA......uhhhh, isn't that what people sign up for in many careers, jobs? This is 'bad' why? HOW do you know Christine even has one, to fire that at her ? If your talking about the ridiculous amounts paid to many government employees, others then be clear in that!? AND.....Union IS what enables MANAGEMENT and many others to make high salaries, retirement plans, and so on so Big Bad Dads comment was wrong why? You interject many opinions, with no basis, no explanation, just cynical digs?! In plain words, what are the points of them!!?? Just to be negative? From the comments I would have to guess that you are not in a career job that offers IRA or 401K, therefore you 'don't need' them and would not protect it? You are against Union, so do not work for any company involved with? You do not make 6 figures and no one should? I don't get the rambling, sorry.

Mr. Powell, WELL DONE SIR! And well done in your anti bully involvement! I wish you a happy retirement when/if and I'd guess even in retirement you will still be involved. I ask all the negative people .....what have you done for society lately!?

August 30 2011 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kevin and Debbie

How nice to read about someone who actually cares about helping others, even at his own expense.
I wish him the best.

August 30 2011 at 12:14 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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