By Ashly McGlone

SAN LORENZO -- Dennis Byas was known for being frugal during his time as superintendent of schools, a characteristic that he took to heart.

Byas, who announced his retirement this week, since 2009 has quietly refused to take his automatic 5 percent salary increase afforded to him in his contract each year, a fact discovered by this newspaper following a series of public records requests.

In 2010, Byas declined his allotted medical benefit increase to "support other's jobs," and began declining his $18,000 annual housing allowance in 2011 "in order to support our Library Media Technicians employment," district records show.

San Lorenzo Unified School District Superintendent Dennis Byas urges students and parents not to settle for second-best academically, at the fifth annual
San Lorenzo Unified School District Superintendent Dennis Byas urges students and parents not to settle for second-best academically, at the fifth annual Southern Alameda County Alliance of African American Educators' Cultural Pursuits Student Achievement Awards, Sunday, April 19, 2009 at the Chabot College Performing Arts Center in Hayward, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

Byas, 62, who describes himself as a "private person," announced his retirement to his district leadership team and staff at a meeting Wednesday afternoon and in a letter.

"The Lord has allowed me to have a blessed life and I now have the desire to go do the Lord's work for the remainder of my life," he wrote. "I will never forget our community and its members who are the most supportive and caring people in the nation. ... Many of the students have made me smile and many have made me cry. But, most importantly; each has touched me deeply and helped guide and fulfill my life."

Byas also said his departure will allow him to spend valuable time with his wife, five children, four grandchildren and the rest of his family.

Longtime school board President Norman Fobert said in a statement that Byas "provided realistic leadership during difficult economic times, successfully responding to the demands of all the constituencies in the district community. He will be missed and difficult to replace."

Byas said he didn't know he would pursue a career in education after beginning his professional life at the Kaiser Steel mill in Fontana and later in the corporate world at Xerox Special Information Systems.

He took his first school district job at Bear Valley Unified School District in Big Bear Lake 23 years ago, before going on to work for the Colton Joint Unified School District in San Bernardino County for eight years as superintendent, and then San Lorenzo Unified in 2007 to replace retiring Superintendent Arnie Glassberg.

His pay and other benefits this year to lead the 12,200-student district totaled nearly $423,000, according to district data.

During Byas' time in the San Lorenzo district, solar panels were installed at eight school sites, and an $83 million bond measure was passed in 2008 giving the district the resources to build four new libraries, new gymnasiums at all secondary sites, remodel athletic fields, provide science classroom upgrades and digital arts facilities.

The district is also taking the unusual step of returning an estimated $1.6 million in anticipated savings from bond refinancing to local taxpayers, a move advocated by Byas and approved by the board in April.

The district was recognized by the state in 2010 as a model district for boosting attendance and reducing dropout rates, was one of 129 districts statewide to earn a Seal of Biliteracy Award for its bilingual proficiency program and is the educational partner at the newly opened REACH Ashland Youth Center, officials said.

Although the San Lorenzo district's reserves top 15 percent of its general fund, more than five times the state's 3 percent minimum, not everyone welcomed Byas' frugality as superintendent.

He argued that the district should not spend one-time resources on ongoing costs, like the pay raises and class size decreases requested by the teachers union. He also said healthy reserves allow the district to avoid loans in years of uncertain and delayed state funding. In recent years, the district has managed to reinstate employment for all laid-off teachers who wanted to return to work, officials said.

Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/ashlyreports.