School Superintendent Gives back $800,000 in Salary: Selfless Saint or Flim-flam man?

Unless you have been in a cave the last week or so you have probably heard about Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell and his plan to forego his $288,000 salary over the next three years. Interviews and appearances on various radio and TV shows (including Fox) have resulted in lavish praise for the 63 year-old career educator. He even got a call from Arne Duncan, former Chicago Public Schools Superintendent and now Obama’s Secretary of Education, thanking him for his generosity.

“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 Night.”

And more from Autry:  “This reminds me of the great sacrifices made throughout our history, especially the Great Depression.”

Fulsome praise indeed from a former Bubba.

According to all reports he gave up his $288,000 annual salary for a measly (GASP!) $31,000 per year. And one of the reasons was the terrible things that public workers did in Bell, CA. He wants to make up for the unfair perception some peoples have that public employees take advantage of taxpayers with out-of-control salaries and pensions.

As he put it: “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?'”

So to summarize Mr. Powell’s giving, giving, and giving act of kindness:

  1. “Things like this are what America is all about,”
  2. “This reminds me of the great sacrifices made throughout our history”
  3. “What can we do that might restore confidence in government?”

Wow, I’m tearing up. Please excuse me but I will need a moment to collect myself.

OK now that I have found the Kleenex box I only have one question:

How much is his pension?

That is a question every champion news reader would have asked right off the bat but no one in the media seemed to think of it or perhaps they thought it too mean-spirited and personal. I mean the guys a saint, let’s build a monument, right?

Well, as you may have guessed the cynic in me made me check it out.

His pension is 100% of his salary.

But it’s actually worse than that – or better than that if you are Mr. Powell. Since he no longer has to pay the 8% teacher contribution to his pension account he save $23,000/yr so he is actually making more now (take home pay) than he was when he was under contract. If you add in his new $31,000 salary he’s ahead about $50,000/yr.

Oops on the sainthood I would guess.

So basically all that happened was the cost of his employment was moved from the local taxpayers to the state taxpayers – and then some. He is giving up absolutely nothing.

You can calculate it yourself on the CALSTRS (CA State Teachers Retirement System) website. He was born in 1948 and has 42 years experience. Just skip sick leave and other items.

My guess Mr. Powell’s future will include running for political office. Maybe he could move to Illinois first. He’d fit right in here.


1. Nonsense; humbug.

2. A deception; a swindle.

Bill Zettler is a free-lance writer and consultant specializing in public sector compensation. He can be contacted at this mail address.

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