Grantland Rice, the fabled sports writer whose humble beginnings were born in Nashville, once famously wrote, “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks – not that you won or lost - but how you played the game.”
Remember that when Larry Powell resigns tomorrow as the school superintendent of Fresno County in California. He’s spent 41 years in education, this after first becoming an all-state wrestling champ in his hometown of Fresno despite childhood polio, and the fact he is an ordained Baptist minister is also a big factor in the mark beside his name. It should be made with a very wide brush.
You see, Superintendent Powell will resign from his post on Wednesday for just one day. He will walk away from an annual salary of $288,241 only to be immediately hired on Sept. 1 as … well, the school superintendent of Fresno County. Instead of his current salary, he will now be paid $31,000 a year – without benefits – which is approximately $10,000 less than a beginning teacher’s salary.
You see, he – in essence – is giving his salary back to the school district for the next three-plus years until his elected term ends because he says he and his wife will have enough in his pension and her retirement and knows the cash-strapped school system - and its children – need the money more than he does.
For the record, Larry oversees the educational needs of 195,000 children. In Fresno there are some very rich people and others in poverty. In the 325 schools he oversees, he recognizes that every dime is vital for the children’s education and he – as one solidary American – is standing up to give what will amount to an $830,000 gift towards their future.
“Our goal has never been to have things,” he said almost sheepishly when word spread about his unselfish act. “(Pat, my wife, and I) want to give back. Fresno … has been labeled the Appalachia of the West. We are like a bar bell, we have extreme wealth and extreme poverty …. There is no shortage of need locally.”
The unprecedented move was Powell’s idea. "It's a unique arrangement that I'm in and it allows me to give something back to the community in a tangible way and I don't think of it as being a hero at all. It was a perfect opportunity to do something where the public benefits, the taxpayer benefits…the taxpayer saves between $150,000 and $160,000 in reduced costs, the county receives $830,000."
No one knows better than Larry that sweeping cuts in the California budget in the last five years have shaved nearly $2,000 in funding per student in Fresno County. He’s seen preschool and kindergarten programs suffer, college counseling programs riddled, and the arts programs cast aside.
Worse, he’s seen widespread corruption in the state. In the small town of Bell, which is in Los Angeles County, the city manager was slyly making almost $1 million a year and, after a state audit found a prison surgeon was one of the highest paid state employees at $777,000, it was soon learned the doctor was not even treating patients any longer.
"I was particularly disappointed in what happened in Bell because I also happen to be a Baptist minister,” the 63-year-old Powell said, “and ethics and treating people well is important to me. I wanted to make a sort of a statement, but without poking anyone in the eye. There are some of us out there that will do things differently than others did."
Larry is one of those “good” people who chooses to do things differently. Why? “When you make good choices, good things happen to you.”
That sounds a little strange coming from a man who still wears braces on his legs after unsuccessful bone-graft surgery. “Polio was the most spectacular thing that ever happened to me in my life. Because of it, people stepped up to help me be successful.”
As a matter of fact, he is so successful that, starting Thursday, he will work for almost nothing as the superintendent of the Fresno County Schools. But first he has to resign tomorrow. That the way he wants it and … well, the paperwork will take at least a day, you know?
Hero or not, make Larry Powell’s mark in life with the real wide brush.