FRESNO, Calif. - Some people give a bit back to their community. Then there’s Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell, who is giving back $800,000, his compensation for the next three years.
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 antibullying 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 - 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 celebrity mayor who played Captain Bubba Skinner on the TV series “In the Heat of The Night.’’