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In this Friday Aug. 26, 2011 photo, Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell poses for a photo in his office, in Fresno, Calif. Powell is forgoing $800,000 in compensation over the next three years of his term. Until his term expires in 2015, Powell will run 325 schools and 35 school districts with 195,000 students, all for less than a starting California teacher earns. As he prepares for retirement, he wants to ensure that his pet projects survive California budget cuts. (AP Photo/Tracie Cone)

Every once in a while a news story comes along that restores our faith in the basic goodness of humanity. The story of Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell is just such a case.

If you missed the story, Powell is forgoing nearly $800,000 worth of salary due him over the next three years because his districts, like all others, are strapped for cash.

This editorial space has often critically detailed cases of public employees -- nearly always the high-ranking ones -- manipulating the state's or a county's generous retirement rules to generate lavish retirement payments.

Powell is manipulating those rules, too, but he is doing so in a very different way.

Instead of using the rules to pad an already very comfortable retirement, Powell is using those same rules to help fund some of the important programs that would otherwise be on the budget chopping block.

The 63-year-old Powell is responsible for 325 schools in 35 school districts with more than 195,000 students. And, for the next three years, he will be paid less in salary to run them than a starting teacher earns.

The district is contracted to pay Powell roughly $288,000 a year through 2015. But Powell decided that some of the projects he holds dear are more important to him than money. So he officially retired, thus allowing him to draw his on six-figure retirement. He was then rehired at $31,000 a year with no benefits.


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Because his salary comes out of the district's discretionary budget, for the next three years he will be able to steer the money he is giving up to programs for kindergarten and preschool, the arts and a pet project that steers B and C students into college by teaching them how to take notes and develop strategy skills.

"How much do we need to keep accumulating?" asked Powell, who is also an ordained Baptist minister. "There's no reason for me to keep stockpiling money."

The cynical among us will ask if this is some kind of publicity stunt. Hardly. His move was so low-key that word of it took four days after the school board meeting to reach the community. No news releases or self-congratulatory pats on the back.

Powell, who started teaching as a high school civics teacher, moved into school administration and became deputy superintendent. He was appointed to his current job before running for the office in 2006.

He serves on the board of a national anti-bullying group that sprang from the Columbine High shootings in 1999. He has made anti-bullying programs a personal mission and he will likely steer some of the money toward those programs.

Powell said that he and his wife were sickened by the scandalous salaries and benefits exposed by the Los Angeles Times in the Southern California city of Bell.

"It's hard to believe that someone in the public trust would do that to the public," Powell said. "My wife and I asked ourselves 'What can we do that might restore confidence in government?'"

We think the Powells certainly are taking an impressive first step in that direction.