We’ve covered some of the soaring salaries of public employees in California before, but late last month, one California school superintendent did a remarkable thing to help his districts save more of the money they need to provide a better service for students. He voluntarily cut his own salary by over $200,000.
Larry Powell, 63, is the superintendent of schools for Fresno County, and until his term ends in 2015, Powell is charged with running over 300 schools in 35 school districts with nearly 200,000 students. Yet this August, he went from making $250,000 a year to just $31,000– less than a starting teacher in California.
Why the change? Powell doesn’t see any reason to be making so much money for what he does, asking, “How much do we need to keep accumulating? There’s no reason for me to keep stockpiling money.” He says that his savings, along with his wife’s health insurance policy are plenty enough for them to live on.
Part of Powell’s motivation was to restore trust in government after what happened in Bell. In July of 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported to an outraged California public that city officials in the Los Angeles County town of Bell, California had exacted exorbitant salaries from their city’s taxpayers.
Since then, Californians have bristled at the unusually high salaries that some of California’s public employees on a state and local level make, including the revelation this July that over 1,400 state employees received more than $200,000 in compensation last year and that nine out of the ten highest-paid state workers made over $500,000. Regarding Bell, Powell says, “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?'” They decided to take a voluntary salary cut to save money for other important programs.
Powell is concerned that as California faces budget cuts, teachers in his school districts might lose their jobs and schools might face shortages of funding for classroom materials and important programs. His concern for his students and the teachers under his leadership above all make for an inspiring lesson to others in public service, that it’s not about lucrative salaries, but serving the community.