Ashton: Game changer earned his pay

July 26, 2010 

Walt Hanline's last contract as a superintendent guaranteed he'd retire from the Ceres Unified School District.

It set his pay -- $184,758 in 2008 -- in the middle of similar-sized school districts' and included the usual perquisites for an executive at a public agency these days: $650 a month for a car allowance, $350 a month for other expenses, a bonus $2,000 because of his advanced degrees and the ability to cash out 10 days of vacation each year.

That's a good deal, but not neces- sarily one that would keep Hanline in Ceres.

He was the state's superintendent of the year in 2007, and he showed a unique ability to raise money for six new schools while bringing construction projects in on time and on budget. He was a game changer as a superintendent, not one who just talked about doing things differently.

Hanline's "golden handcuff" in the contract he signed in February 2006 was his retirement incentive. The district gave him an increasing amount of cash in a tax-sheltered annuity over the past four years, rising from $12,000 to $21,000 in the final year of his contract, which ended

June 30. It was $66,000 altogether.

Based on his 2008 salary, Hanline had at least a $219,758 package for the 2009-10 academic year. That's a little more than Arturo Flores earned last year as superintendent of the Modesto City Schools District, which has 18,000 more students than the 12,000 attending Ceres schools.

Hanline's agreement came together in the full sunlight of the press. The Bee and The Ceres Courier ran stories about the deal when the district's board of trustees approved it by a 5-1 vote. It didn't generate much blowback in the community.

The attention Hanline's contract received upon signing is a contrast to the uproar in Bell, a Ceres-sized suburb of Los Angeles where residents learned last week that City Manager Robert Rizzo was hauling in nearly $787,000 a year in salary. Rizzo's pay escalated out of the public eye, climbing by as much as

12 percent a year without scrutiny. He resigned amid furor over his obscene pay, but not before telling the Los Angeles Times:

"If that's a number people choke on, maybe I'm in the wrong business. I could go into private business and make that money. This council has compensated me for the job I've done."

Yeah, Bob, good luck on that job hunt. Not that he'll need to look with his $600,000 pension, as the Times reported.

Four years after doubling down on Hanline, Ceres leaders maintain that he was worth the money.

"He literally deserved every penny," said Diane Sol, a former trustee who voted for the contract. "Oh definitely, all the stuff he did. He was very active for the district, and the students were his No. 1 priority."

One could argue that Modesto taxpayers happily would've ponied up an extra $66,000 for a superintendent who could've built Gregori High School in Salida for the advertised cost of

$66 million instead of the actual cost of $140.7 million.

In that respect, Hanline's ready for you to judge his pay by his performance.

"I know I'm very blessed," he said. "I didn't get in education for the money, but as Diane Sol said, I did earn every penny."

Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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