Fresno School Superintendent Takes $800,000 Salary Cut

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Tracie Cone / AP

Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell poses for a photo in his office. Powell is forgoing $800,000 in compensation over the next three years of his term

A California school superintendent is providing his students and teachers with a heartening example of civic sacrifice.

Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell is voluntarily giving up $800,000 in salary and benefits that he would have earned through the end of his term in 2015.  The money will go back to the school system’s discretionary budget and Powell plans to earmark it for preschool and kindergarten projects, the arts, and perhaps his pet cause of anti-bullying programs.

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With nonessential programs on the chopping block, Powell wanted to ensure his legacy past retirement, as well as make sure his districts had a bulwark against potential midyear budget cuts.  What he has also done, however, is restore a measure of much-needed faith in government and elected officials. Powell is modest enough that there were no press releases or ceremonies in his honor.   Not one to seek public accolades, the ordained Baptist minister told the Associated Press, “When you make good choices, good things happen to you.”

Technically, Powell retired (for a mere day), and then was rehired at a salary of $31,000 a year, less than a starting teacher’s salary in California.  Though his duties are considerably farther reaching — he runs 325 schools with 195,000 total students — he asked the AP, “How much do we need to keep accumulating?  There’s no reason for me to keep stockpiling money.”

Powell started in the Fresno school district as a high school civics teacher before entering into administration and moving up the ranks to superintendent.  He is still entitled to a six-figure retirement.  But the civic pride he has spread with his act of generosity will last far longer.

MORE: The Tarnished State of California’s Golden College System

Allison Berry is a contributor at TIME.  You can continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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