Fresno County schools chief Larry Powell to retire in June

The Fresno BeeMay 9, 2013 

Larry Powell, who has served as Fresno County's superintendent of schools since 2006, will retire -- again -- on June 30, 18 months before his current term in office expires.

Powell, 65, said he believes the county Office of Education's financial situation has stabilized, after it faced a 22% decline in funds from the state over the past seven years. So he can step away to pursue other interests, including motivational speaking, writing and acting.

"I'll finish 43 years in education on June 30, so it's time to go on and do a few other things," he said Thursday.

He first "retired" in 2011, giving up some $800,000 in salary and benefits that he was expected to earn for the rest of his second term in office, but stayed on the job at a reduced salary of about $31,000 a year -- money he said he has donated to charity as he's received retirement benefits.

"I donated two years to the county, and now it's just time for some new leadership to come in," Powell said.

Powell's retirement will be considered by the five-member county Board of Education at its meeting next week. It will be up to the board to appoint a successor to fill the remainder of Powell's term. Powell said he will recommend his assistant, Deputy Superintendent Jim Yovino, for the interim post.

Powell brought Yovino on board as his deputy when he took office. Previously, Yovino was an assistant superintendent under Powell in Central Unified School District.

The county Office of Education provides support services for 34 districts that include 325 schools and 31 charter schools with a total student population of about 195,000 youngsters.

"Getting somebody onboard and online is critical" with the retirement date less than two months away, Powell said. "We can't go without leadership for very long."

Powell's education career began at Sanger High School, where he taught American government, history and "marriage and the family," a class intended to help seniors prepare for adult life. "I like to say it was teaching about two kinds of civil war," Powell said with a laugh. He later worked as a teacher and administrator in the Fresno and Central unified school districts. Powell defeated fellow educator Larry Wilder in a June 2006 election to succeed Pete Mehas, who served as the county superintendent for nearly 16 years.

Powell is also a member of the Board of Trustees at Fresno Pacific University, has served as a member of the state board for the Association of California School Administrators and on advisory boards for Fresno State.

Powell's breadth of experience has made him a valuable resource for school officials throughout the county, said Michael Hanson, superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District. Powell was the Central Unified superintendent when Hanson came to Fresno in 2005.

"Larry is unlike other county superintendents that I know because he really embodies and represents the county he serves," Hanson said. "He has a steadfast vision for what kids need in their lives and he's never wavered from it."

Hanson said that type of stability and consistency is important, "especially for smaller districts that don't have the resources that Fresno or Clovis or Central unified have, because the county office is the singular place they look to and go through for guidance."

On a personal level, Hanson said he has appreciated Powell's guidance and perspective. "His knowledge of the entire community has been invaluable to me," he said. "Sometimes, when being the Fresno Unified superintendent is not the most fun job in the city, Larry has always been encouraging and always offered a clear perspective on the next steps, always with an eye on the students' well-being."

Powell is not necessarily planning on taking it easy in retirement. "I've got a lot of things happening," he said. "I'm working on a book, doing some speaking at corporate events across the country, I'm writing songs, I'm involved in church and doing a lot with my grandkids."

A veteran of past productions with the Good Company Players community theater troupe, Powell is taking another turn at acting with his pal, actor and former Fresno mayor Alan Autry. "I'm involved in a movie right now and I'm having a lot of fun with that," he said. "If you've ever been a middle-school principal, you're already an actor out of necessity, but now I'm going to have the time to do it."

The reporter can be reached at tsheehan@fresnobee.com or at (559) 441-6319 or on Twitter @tsheehan

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