Fresno school superintendent Larry Powell gives up salary, seeks to protect kids from bullying

This story sounds too good to be true, but I’ll run with it anyway: It’s about a public school superintendent who (1) gave up most of the remaining $800,000 on his contract; (2) serves as a leader in the anti-bullying movement for kids; and (3) earns praise from a leader of a union that negotiates with the school district.

Meet Larry Powell, age 63, the Fresno County (CA) School Superintendent. Tracie Cone of the Associated Press files this story about him (link here):

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.”

Cone further reports that Powell “serves on the board of a national anti-bullying group that sprang from the Columbine shootings” and “is so popular he even counts among his friends his contract bargaining nemesis, the former head of the employees’ union.”

Early adversity

It has been a recurring theme on this blog to tout the impact of personal resilience and overcoming adversity in creating society’s difference makers. As Cone adds, Powell fits the bill:

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.”

Giving back

News accounts indicate that Powell and his wife are secure for retirement and that he’s already reached the maximum pension under the California system. So it’s not as if he’s taking a vow of poverty by giving up most of his remaining salary.

But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the significance of this gesture.

Right now we’re witnessing a mini-debate over whether America’s super rich should pay higher income taxes, sparked by Warren Buffett’s recent op-ed piece positing that he and other billionaires should be taxed at a higher rate for the betterment of society. By comparison, Larry Powell — a well-compensated public servant — has taken an immediate action route, opting to forgo most of his remaining salary. Bingo. Done.

We need such role models in visible positions, and it appears that Powell is one of those rarities. Take a look at Cone’s article and see if you don’t feel a little bit better about the ability of individuals to inspire others and serve as positive examples.

One response

  1. Wow. I say, “You rock on, Larry!”

    Every time someone in a powerful position takes an action such as his, the more moral momentum those actions accumulate. Gradually, people like him become the heroes, the admirable ones, the ones to be imitated–and the bullies lose social clout, which is their biggest weapon.

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