Today we continue our “Top 10 Ways the Finance Council is Conflicted, Self-Contradicted, or Perhaps Even Corrupted” with the second part on compensation. If you have not yet read yesterday’s post on Compensation: Six-Figure Salaries, do check out both the post and the insightful comments. And for new readers, you can catch-up by reading #1: Consultation on Performance or Removal of the Chancellor, and #2 Term of Service, and #3 Conflicts of Interest. Today we continue with:
#4: Compensation–Mary Grassa O’Neill
Before we dive in here, we pause to remind everyone that a key responsibility of the Finance Council is to “advise the Archbishop on the development and implementation of strategies to assure the financial soundness of the Archdiocese.” The archdiocese needs to be financially sound in order to accomplish the goals of the Catholic Church, which the Code of Canon Law (1245 §2) tells us are as follows:
These proper objectives are principally the regulation of divine worship, the provision of fitting support for the clergy and other ministers, and the carrying out of works of the sacred apostolate and of charity, especially for the needy.
It is probably self-evident to everyone that if the Archdiocese is not a good steward of donations and temporal goods–for example, by over-paying certain lay employees–then donors are not going to want to give money and the Church cannot continue doing her good works and achieving these objectives.
Anyway, as we mentioned yesterday, the Finance Council has responsibility for consulting and overseeing compensation, but we cannot see what they have accomplished in recent years. Is the practice of paying comparable or better pay than private-sector jobs helping advance the mission of the Church?
The poster-person who exemplifies what is wrong with lay “executive compensation” in the Boston Archdiocese is Catholic Schools Superintendent, Mary Grassa O’Neill. She is not the only person, as people commenting yesterday observed. But she is the highest-paid, so we focus on her today. Quite simply, her $325,000 salary appears to be objectively unjustifiable and without precedent. Below we focus on how to look at compensation, whether she is overpaid, and then questions and concerns we have received.
1) Looking at Compensation
As “Objective Observer” observed yesterday in comments, there are different standards for looking at compensation, and various points to consider, for example:
1. Look at comparably qualified individuals in other entities. This can be boiled down to, “What does a Ph.D. in education get paid?”
2. Look at the scope of responsibility of the comparably qualified individual in other entities (e.g. Ph.D. in education).
3. Look at compensation in comparable organizations.
4. Another essential question is, “What is the compensation of the other managers in this organization?” In the RCAB case we would ask what the principals of the schools are paid in order to determine what the superintendent is paid.
Much as we know we may be disappointing our readers who have high expectations of us, the blog is not prepared to undertake the rigorous analysis called for above. We do simply a poor-person’s version of #2 above, but we will try nonetheless, since we think this analysis is better than what the Finance Council, Chancellor McDonough, HR Director Carol Gustavson, and Jack Connors have done up to now.
As we have said previously, the biography of Dr. Grassa O’Neill lists impressive accomplishments, especially in her most recent stint in a school operational role as Milton superintendent of schools from 1993 to 2003, where she, coincidentally, worked with current general counsel, Beirne Lovely, on the Milton School Board, and where her annual compensation was about $138,000 in 2003. (We know this because this chart of Mass superintendent salaries from 2006-2007 says her successor was paid $168K in 2006, an increase of 22% from 2003-04, so that means Dr. O’Neill was making $138K in 2003).
An ideal comparison is vs the salary of other similarly-qualified school superintendents at other large Catholic archdioceses, but we just cannot find published information about those. So, the best we can do is to compare her salary to those published for other large urban-area school superintendents. And we need to acknowledge an error we made previously.
At one time, we told you that the Boston public schools superintendent was paid more than Mary Grassa O’Neill, but we learned yesterday that we did not have complete information. On paper, this 2009 source said the compensation plan for the Boston public schools superintendent, Carol Johnson, Ph.D. paid her a base salary of $280,288 and a bonus of another $55,549, so we thought she was earning $335,838 for managing a school system of 56,000 students.
But yesterday we realized that Carol Johnson is refusing to accept her bonus. Yes, readers, a public official is refusing to take the bonus. According to the Boston Herald of July 6, 2010, she makes $275,000.
[Superintendent Carol] Johnson told the Herald she won’t take any pay hikes or bonuses during the rest of her contract in Boston.
“I don’t think in a period where schools are cutting resources for children, any of us can expect to take raises,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s contract pays her an annual salary of $275,000 through June 30, 2012. She has also refused annual performance bonuses, a 2.5 percent pay raise each year and a $600-a-month car allowance.
“I don’t expect anyone to do what I’m doing,” said Johnson, the city’s highest-paid worker. “But in the public sector, you’re held to a higher standard of accountability with the use of public resources, and that’s how it should be.”
Pause for a moment and re-read that last quote. The highest-paid worker in the city of Boston said, “in the public sector, you’re held to a higher standard of accountability with the use of public resources, and that’s how it should be.” When is the last time you heard someone at the Pastoral Center say something like that publicly? And Dr. Johnson is in the midst of a massive effort to close or merge a dozen Boston Public Schools, as today’s Boston Globe reports, so her job is by no means a walk in the park these days.
Even if Grassa O’Neill is considered equivalent in capability and earnings potential to the Boston Public School superintendent by virtue of education background and geography, Boston Catholic schools have 42,500 students, which is 24% fewer than Boston, and no unions. And besides that, this is the Catholic Church, where you want people who buy into the mission of serving our Lord and are willing to hold themselves to a “higher standard of accountability” with the use of limited donor resources and the widow’s mite.
We know you count on BCI as an accurate source of information and apologize to our readers for mistakenly telling you that Mary Grassa O’Neill made less than the Boston Schools Superintendent who oversees more students, when in fact Grassa O’Neill is collecting $50,000 more. We also apologize to Dr. Grassa O’Neill if there was any offense taken by this miscommunication. We will try harder to get it right in the future.
Given this imperfect comparison and the factors outlined by “Objective Observer,” it is almost irrelevant to compare vs other public school superintendents, but we had the chart already made, so here is an equally imperfect comparison just for your reference:
In terms of who is responsible for agreeing to these terms for Grassa O’Neill, her $325,000 salary was approved by Jack Connors, who is worth about $500 million. and Chancellor Jim McDonough, who came away from his last job as CEO of Abington Savings Bank with around $9 million in stock value (from 255,000 stock options worth $35/share) when Abington Bank was sold, on top of the $437K/year in total compensation he was paid. Apparently, the $325K is what Mary required in salary to leave her previous job at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (a non-comparable institution and function as per #3 above) and join the Archdiocese.
One cannot help but ask if anyone can find a Catholic schools superintendent anywhere in the country who earns this level of compensation. We cannot.
3) Questions and Concerns
For this amount of money, one also cannot help but ask what is the Boston archdiocese getting for this? Grassa O’Neill’s biography says she may be a fine public school administrator, but what exactly is her job description here running Catholic Schools? How is her performance objectively measured to earn this level of compensation?
We have heard from or spoken to parents and teachers from the North Shore to the South Shore to the western suburbs and we get the same questions all the time about the Catholic schools office. This recent email is representative of what we keep hearing:
“Two of my children attend ___School in ___ To my knowledge, there are no policy directives, there is no guidance or help of any kind from the Archdiocese where school administration or development is concerned. I look at the Office of Education’s web site, and all I see are reports of what individual schools are doing, apparently under their own auspices and with no involvement from the Archdiocese. I mean, it’s not just a matter of her apparently being overpaid, it’s that her job just doesn’t seem to amount to anything…”
Just to clarify, we do not consider this a “personal attack.” Grassa O’Neill has an impressive biography on paper. Her salary and the comparison to other schools is factual, objective, and a matter of public record. And we have received a number of complaints from parents and teachers about the lack of responsiveness from the schools office and/or perception that they are not bringing value nearly commensurate with the published salaries. There is also an increasing perception, fueled by articles like this one from Tuesday’s Globe, that the Catholic schools are becoming more focused on trying to appeal to non-Catholics than they are to maintaining an authentically Catholic education. Jack Connors’ quote on the Campaign for Catholic Schools website would serve to validate this direction: “While people may think that we are rebuilding a few Catholic schools, in fact we are rebuilding the Catholic faith.” (click image)
No offense, but how many people want Jack Connors rebuilding the Catholic faith with our donation dollars? And who is providing the Catholic oversight for Jack to rebuild the faith? Is that an independent project to rebuild the faith for all of us in Boston, or are Cardinal O’Malley or some theologians also involved? Or is the $325K salary because Mary Grassa O’Neill is helping oversee and administer the effort to rebuild the faith? (Sorry, we digress).
Here is one more example just posted to the blog by another parent:
Recently, I had a meeting with her as a result of concerns parents had about the promotion of atheism, homosexuality and transgenderism at Sacred Heart School, a non-archdiocesan “catholic” school, in Kingston (nonetheless under the authority of the Cardinal). During our meeting she displayed either a complete lack of understanding of the Catholic church teaching, or possibly an arrogant disregard of the Church’s position.
She agreed to negotiate on behalf of several concerned parents with the school to get the school to take five steps to correct the problem. She met with the school principals who essentially told her to “take a hike.” She came back from her “negotiation” empty handed. Result: not one corrective step will be taken by the school. A not so super performance by the superintendent.
Notwithstanding several requests to have her explain her absolute failure in person, she avoided e-mails and refused to meet with us again. She only responded to e-mails after additional pressure was placed on her by the Vicar General’s office. When she finally did respond via e-mail she wrote nothing substantive — a brush-off thank you note.
These are just two examples of many we have received.
Why can’t proudly non-Catholic HR Director Carol Gustavson make a couple of calls to other dioceses to ask about salaries just as a sanity-check before Grassa O’Neill is told that her salary needs to be cut by $75-100K. No compensation committee needed. If Chancellor Jim McDonough is not sure where he might put the money and it is somehow earmarked for education, try giving it to Fr. Clancy in Campus Ministries. Based on what BCI has seen, we are confident it can really put it to fantastic use by Fr. Clancy ministering to Catholics on college campuses, instead of him having to raise funds himself or shut-down individual campus ministries.
By the way, just a side note to Chancellor McDonough and Cardinal O’Malley. We keep hearing in various ways from pastors–especially those whose parishes are running in the red–that they are concerned about paying their own parish bills and do not trust that what they pay to Central administration is being used effectively. We are hearing from donors as well who do not trust how effectively their contributions will be used.
We do not know if the six-figure salary situation specifically is part of the reason for all of these concerns, but you might want to try and work on this issue of pastors and donors not trusting the Finance department. We are glad to help with drafting of job descriptions, ideas on people for search committees (if there is such thing as a legitimate search any more), etc. or in some other capacity if you need our assistance.
In our next exciting episode, we take up the new Compensation Committee. Stay tuned, and have a blessed weekend!