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How much does your superintendent get paid?

Tracie Cone / AP
Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell poses in his office, in Fresno, Calif. Powell is forgoing $800,000 in compensation over the next three years of his term. 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. As he prepares for retirement, he wants to ensure that his pet projects survive California budget cuts.

School superintendent gives up $800,000 in pay 
'There's no reason for me to keep stockpiling money,' he says

8/28/2011 12:03:51 PM ET

 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. 

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 

"A part of me has chaffed 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 

"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 

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

"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 e-mail 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 

"It's the most spectacular thing that has 
happen 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 

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 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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