Selfless superintendent is political role model
Published: Saturday, September 3, 2011
Updated: Saturday, September 3, 2011 14:09
When I think of the philanthropic people, I think of Bill Gates. He and his wife Melinda have given billions to ensure that education is a civil right amongst developing nations. They are saints for those who would not receive an education otherwise. I also think of Oprah Winfrey, who has built schools for educating girls in South Africa, empowering girls who would not otherwise succeed. And while the list can go on and on, I have to add a new inspiration to my list: Larry Powell.
I know what you're thinking. Who is Larry Powell? Mr. Powell is an educator from California. Stricken with polio as a child, Powell overcame many obstacles (including the dreaded 20-foot rope climb in a record 1.8 seconds in a leg brace, according to Tracie Cone of the Associated Press) to become a high school civics teacher and eventually rise to the elected position of the Fresno Superintendent of Schools. He is in charge of 35 school districts, for a total of 325 schools and about 195,000 students.
And as of late August he does it all for free.
In the face of budget cuts to his schools from the state of California, Powell asked to retire as the superintendent and be rehired under a few conditions. First, that the just over $200,000 dollars a year he was forfeiting remained in the district's discretionary funding pool so that he could use it to fund programs such as an anti-bullying initiative as well as a Pre-K and Kindergarten program. The second stipulation was that he be rehired at a pay of only $31,000 and no benefits. The school board couldn't pass up the deal. They got a great leader at a price $10,000 less than a first year teacher.
But Powell couldn't stop there. He said he would donate the $31,000 paycheck to a variety if charities. In keeping with the undying spirit of a civic instructor, Powell tells Cone, "Our goal has never been to have things, we want to give back."
Larry Powell will not go hungry, however. He will still receive a six figure retirement. But he does save the district $28,000 a year by doing so early. Powell cites disappointment over schemes in other districts to over inflate the salaries of the board as a reason behind this selfless act. No one knew what Powell had done for 4 days. His ultimate goal is to restore the people's faith in the government.
Honestly, I don't think he can do that alone. A school board council member praised his move. The former Mayor of Fresno said Powell embodied the American Spirit. The Secretary of Education Arne Duncan phoned to express his gratitude. I, for one, have not heard of any other of the high paid officials in all branches and from all sides of government mention this. Granted, Powell still gets six figures, but the effort is genuine. It's similar to that old saying, "It's not the gift, but the thought that counts."
I also understand the need to make sure that political figures are less susceptible to corruption by giving them salaries that can cover anything they need, but come on. Kids need art. They need music. And they need to know there is something worth working for, not that everything is broken and hope all lost.
Private sector millionaires such as Warren Buffet have asked for the lawmakers to fix the tax breaks on wealthier citizens and Congress won't do it. Maybe because 251 of them are millionaires and well within that group of "wealthier citizens."
I know what some of you will say: "Moocher!" "Socialist!" "Democrat!"
And I disagree (except the Democrat part). All I ask is a fair wage, a fair price, and a fair shake. Who doesn't? I think people like Powell are starting to embrace the idea. The real question is, will people look for the genuine article when they go to cast their votes in 2012 or will they fall for plastic or fanatical politicians? I don't see a lot of people volunteering in Washington, DC to do what Powell did, although the private sector is trying to do what's right. Nonetheless, I bet the country would be a lot more comfortable knowing that a member of Congress wanted something they couldn't afford for a paycheck or two so they could better identify with us—the little people that pay those checks.