Forward thinking superintendent's quiet sacrifice greeted with loud cheers
August 30, 2011 by Felicia Matlosz
When Fresno County Schools Superintendent Larry Powell quietly decided to take a pay cut that saves government more than $800,000, he didn't foresee that the idea would be greeted nationwide with accolades and applause.
Powell's plan will save the Fresno County Office of Education that amount over the next three years and four months – the amount of time left on his term. Those funds can be used if midyear budget cuts are required. But they can also be spent on programs close to Powell’s heart, such as the arts, early childhood education and anti-bullying efforts.
Powell, 63 has been schools chief since 2006, and he’s quick to point out that the actual sacrifice for him will be approximately $480,000 over a 10-year period because he will be well compensated in retirement.
The 41-year education veteran did not publicly announce his decision, but word started to get out, and the story was soon picked up by newspapers and television networks across the country. He's since been deluged with emails from hundreds of admirers, even from as far away as Kenya.
A high school senior in Ohio wrote him: “I now have confidence in elected officials again.”
For Powell, a Baptist minister, it was just a matter of giving back. He was earning $235,000 annually in salary with benefits, mileage and costs for other expenses. And, his wife Dot, also an educator, has retirement.
So they figured out a plan: Powell would retire and then ask the county Board of Education to hire him back at a greatly reduced salary. That amount would be $31,000 per year, with no benefits. The board approved the idea a couple of weeks ago – the retirement takes effect Aug. 31, with Powell's reappointment to follow.
“Our intent was to honorably come up with a way to help during tough budget times,” Powell said. “We still come out good in the deal. We're not being hurt.”
The one change, Powell said Monday, is that he and Dot now will give away the $31,000 as well – first paying taxes on it, then donating the rest to charity.
And he's not shy about challenging other leaders in government and business – “anyone in a position of authority” should sacrifice what they can if they can. “Ask yourself, 'How much money do you need to stockpile?' Is there a point at which you can stop the gravy train?”
Felicia Matlosz is a freelance journalist and writer in the Central Valley