Schools Superintendent Salary Explained: Part 1

After many months of people asking how the Archdiocese of Boston justifies paying Superintendent of Schools, Mary Grassa O’Neill, $325,000/year, an answer has finally been offered by the archdiocese.

Sort of.

According to an anonymous archdiocesan official responding via Ethicspoint to an anonymously submitted Ethicspoint report:

“…the Cardinal is well within his authority to make such an appointment. The compensation package offered to Ms. O’Neill is commensurate with her experience and acknowledges her departure from a much coveted position at Harvard to serve the Archdiocese.”

In other words, the Cardinal and the Archdiocese, a public charity, can do whatever they darned well want to do and pay people whatever asking price they demand.

Here is the original report, sent to BCI, followed by the full Ethicspoint response.  We have edited it slightly to save space.


What is the general nature of this matter?

Poor stewardship of assets via excessive compensation of lay executives.


Mary Grassa O’Neill, Secretary for Education currently makes $325,000 from the archdiocese, on top of a state teachers’ pension worth at least $75,000 annually. No other Catholic archdiocese pays at her level. You can check with NY, Chicago, LA, and others.

In the larger public school system in Boston with 56,000 students, Carol Johnson 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.”

Public schools in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles that serve as much as 10X to 25X the number of students and where the operational responsibility is greater–namely, they  have management responsibility for budgets, hiring/firing, curriculum, transportation, labor negotiations–pay their top administrators $250,000:

Joel Klein, chancellor of the NY City public schools [editorial note, the largest school system in the country], makes $250K/year. They teach 1.1 million students in 1600 schools with an annual budget of $17 billion. Ramon Cortines, the superintendent of the second-largest school system in the country, Los Angeles, also makes $250K/year. They have 694,288 students, 45,473 teachers and 38,494 other employees, and 1044 schools. The total school district budget for 2009-2010 is $7.3 billion. In her last superintendent job running the Milton Public Schools, her annual compensation was $138,000.

Supposedly, she sat on the search committee to fill this role, and then was asked to apply for the position herself. The members of the search committee have never been disclosed, except for chair, Sr. Janet Eisner.

Objectively, there is no basis for paying somebody at this level inside the Catholic Church, and her compensation is wasting donations and assets.


4/5/2011 6:08 PM:

“After careful consideration and review the Cardinal is well within his authority to make such an appointment. The compensation package offered to Ms. O’Neill is commensurate with her experience and acknowledges her departure from a much coveted position at Harvard to serve the Archdiocese.

Additionally, the compensation offered to Ms.  O’Neill is not in violation of any Archdiocesan policies nor is it in violation of any applicable laws or regulations governing compensation.

The Finance Committee of the Archdiocese is in the process of formulating a Compensation Committee to, among other things, review compensation of Archdiocesan employees greater than $150,000. This Committee will be provided the resources necessary to engage a private consulting firm that can aid in the assessment of current compensation levels if necessary. Ultimately, the Committee will be charged with providing a formal report with the release of the annual financial statements report each year. Ms. O’Neill’s compensation will be part of that first review.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The person who submitted this report and shared the response with BCI said they were “livid” with the Ethicspoint-brokered response and submitted a follow-up Ethicspoint report saying: “I am most disappointed in your response. It suggests this new Ethicspoint whistleblower process is already rigged and corrupt.”

We will publish that follow-up report next time.  This is another one of the four reports sent to us where the response seems to have ignored some of the fundamental issues raised in the report. See Is Archdiocesean Anti-Corruption Effort Corrupted and Conflicted? for the first example.  Needless to say, as we blogged about last Friday in “Questionable Composition of Compensation Committee,” BCI does not think the concept of a Compensation Committee is the right solution to the problem of excessive compensation, and the fact that the committee chair and several members are multi-millionaire CEOs and business executives leaves it subject to criticism from the get-go.  We wrote to the committee members to share our concerns and will keep you posted if and when we heard back, but do not hold your breath waiting.

To whomever is responding to these, we are starting to see a vaguely familiar pattern of dismissiveness and defense of the status quo (with a hint of arrogance in the tone), rather than acknowledgment that the report might have merit.  Is this coming from the top?

For the integrity of the new whistleblower process, BCI suggests that those behind the program adopt a perspective that instead genuinely acknowledges the merits of the claim, even if that upsets the status quo.  As for the school superintendent’s salary and the explanation that $325K is what it took to lure Mary Grassa O’Neill from Harvard, we will leave that to our readers to comment on.

What do you think?

23 Responses to Schools Superintendent Salary Explained: Part 1

  1. DBP says:

    Ethicspoint said: “…the Cardinal is well within his authority to make such an appointment.”


    He could, if he so desired, hire Bozo the Clown at twice Ms. O’Neill’s salary to sit in the driveway at 66 Brooks Drive and throw stones at squirrels.

    The question is not whether he has the authority to do so; the question, rather, is this: is it a prudent use of precious resources, and is it good stewardship of donated funds?

    • sheila says:


      The Cardinal couldn’t hire Bozo since Bozo was already [hired by the archdiocese]. Bozo can be observed daily, arriving in his new Cadillac at 66 Brooks. He then spends the rest of his day chucking stones at squirrels from his [edited by BCI] floor office window.

      [BCI note: please avoid personal attacks in your comments].

  2. Pension Pete says:

    I think its important to note that unlike the Boston Super, Mary O’Niell has no authority over most of the Archdiocesan schools. The Pastors run them as they please and her role is advisory at best over most of the system. This came out when the Archdiocese did a real salary survey undedr the direction of Marnee Walsh, its last real HR director. What ever happened to the real salary process???

  3. sheila says:

    The Ethicspoint response is a canned/lame answer to a serious issue. The real answer should be McDonough approved the salary without even considering the market place. Then he went to Gustavason, who knows nothing about compensation and got her to sign off. Done deal!

  4. Devoted Catholic says:

    This really upsets me. As Catholic schools close, fail, and refuse to met the needs of special needs children money gets poured into her salary. I am not sure if anyone knows but there are no special needs teachers or programs in Catholic schools. Why? I am not sure. The Code of Canon Law makes it clear that Catholic schools should reach all Catholic children. I also remember prior to the sexual abuse scandal that the Pilot reported that they were going to start special needs programs for students with IEP’s and moderate learning disabilities. And where has that gone? No place. Instead they created Catholic schools, “an affordable private education” according to their own website. Wait? Private? I thought it was Catholic education. Private schools are meant for only a certain percentage of students ( like Philips Andover) and Catholic schools are supposed to reach out to all Catholic students. Every Catholic child should be able to attend a Catholic school without fear of cost and yet prices keep on rising. As prices for Catholic education keep on rising they do nothing to improve them in terms of reaching all students. And to put the RCAB’S own rational back into their face… there are public school teachers who leave to teach Catholic school and do they get a comparable salary? No. So why should the superintendent? Personally I do not blame her. If someone says they are going to give you a big salary why not take it? It lies within the Cardinal who needs to resign NOW! for making such a horrible choice. I thought Bernie Law was bad… I think this is just as bad. Wasting money. Why not ask a religious take over the position who have ran our schools for decades? They are a lot cheaper because their order gets paid. Friends I fear the end of Catholic education in the RCAB. In terms of Catholic they are Catholic with a lower case “c”. The word catholic means (lower case c) means universal. So it is universal for gays and lesbians and anyone against true Catholic teaching… but not for our special needs students who deserve a solid Catholic education rooted in dedication to our Holy Father Pope Benedict and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
    So why would good Catholic parents send their child to a Catholic school? They don’t that is the sad part. Because they cannot afford it, do not want a half ass lower case c catholic education, and want their special needs child to receive a half ass education.
    This is a sad, sad situation. All we can do is pray and maybe start a petition for our Holy Father to step in. Some may think my response is a little out there. Well I grew up in Catholic schools and am sad to see its decline.

  5. Devoted Catholic says:

    This is long but it gives some substance to my previous statements on Catholic Education. This comes from the official 1983 Code of Canon Law.


    Can. 793 §1 Parents, and those who take their place, have both the obligation and the right to educate their children. Catholic parents have also the duty and the right to choose those means and institutes which, in their local circumstances, can best promote the catholic education of their children.

    §2 Parents have moreover the right to avail themselves of that assistance from civil society which they need to provide a catholic education for their children.

    Can. 794 §1 The Church has in a special way the duty and the right of educating, for it has a divine mission of helping all to arrive at the fullness of christian life.

    §2 Pastors of souls have the duty of making all possible arrangements so that all the faithful may avail themselves of a catholic education.

    Can. 795 Education must pay regard to the formation of the whole person, so that all may attain their eternal destiny and at the same time promote the common good of society. Children and young persons are therefore to be cared for in such a way that their physical, moral and intellectual talents may develop in a harmonious manner, so that they may attain a greater sense of responsibility and a right use of freedom, and be formed to take an active part in social life.

    Can. 796 §1 Among the means of advancing education, Christ’s faithful are to consider schools as of great importance, since they are the principal means of helping parents to fulfil their role in education.

    §2 There must be the closest cooperation between parents and the teachers to whom they entrust their children to be educated. In fulfilling their task, teachers are to collaborate closely with the parents and willingly listen to them; associations and meetings of parents are to be set up and held in high esteem.

    Can. 797 Parents must have a real freedom in their choice of schools. For this reason Christ’s faithful must be watchful that the civil society acknowledges this freedom of parents and, in accordance with the requirements of distributive justice, even provides them with assistance.

    Can. 798 Parents are to send their children to those schools which will provide for their catholic education. If they cannot do this, they are bound to ensure the proper catholic education of their children outside the school.

    Can. 799 Christ’s faithful are to strive to secure that in the civil society the laws which regulate the formation of the young, also provide a religious and moral education in the schools that is in accord with the conscience of the parents.

    Can. 800 §1 The Church has the right to establish and to direct schools for any field of study or of any kind and grade.

    §2 Christ’s faithful are to promote catholic schools, doing everything possible to help in establishing and maintaining them.

    Can. 801 Religious institutes which have education as their mission are to keep faithfully to this mission and earnestly strive to devote themselves to catholic education, providing this also through their own schools which, with the consent of the diocesan Bishop, they have established.

    §2 Where it is suitable, the diocesan Bishop is to provide for the establishment of professional and technical schools, and of other schools catering for special needs.

    Can. 803 §1 A catholic school is understood to be one which is under the control of the competent ecclesiastical authority or of a public ecclesiastical juridical person, or one which in a written document is acknowledged as catholic by the ecclesiastical authority.

    §2 Formation and education in a catholic school must be based on the principles of catholic doctrine, and the teachers must be outstanding in true doctrine and uprightness of life.

    §3 No school, even if it is in fact catholic, may bear the title ‘catholic school’ except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.

    Can. 804 §1 The formation and education in the catholic religion provided in any school, and through various means of social communication is subject to the authority of the Church. It is for the Episcopal Conference to issue general norms concerning this field of activity and for the diocesan Bishop to regulate and watch over it.

    §2 The local Ordinary is to be careful that those who are appointed as teachers of religion in schools, even non-catholic ones, are outstanding in true doctrine, in the witness of their christian life, and in their teaching ability.

    Can. 805 In his own diocese, the local Ordinary has the right to appoint or to approve teachers of religion and, if religious or moral considerations require it, the right to remove them or to demand that they be removed.

    Can. 806 §1 The diocesan Bishop has the right to watch over and inspect the catholic schools situated in his territory, even those established or directed by members of religious institutes. He has also the right to issue directives concerning the general regulation of catholic schools these directives apply also to schools conducted by members of a religious institute, although they retain their autonomy in the internal management of their schools.

    §2 Those who are in charge of catholic schools are to ensure, under the supervision of the local Ordinary, that the formation given in them is, in its academic standards, at least as outstanding as that in other schools in the area.

  6. rocky says:

    let’s get to the bottom line…after she turns on the lights to her office each morning …what does she do the rest of the day to earn 325k ??

  7. A. J. Constantino says:

    Good Tuesday Morning!

    I promise to get off my “soap box” but…..

    Why form a Compensation Committee and have a need for a paid outside consultant?

    In my past experience, I worked for an importer with annual sales of $350.0 million, the President of the company constantly hired outside consultants, many times in the area of Human Resources. In the end, after evaluating the reports of these consultants, we would find our own evaluation of the issue achieved the best result. Simply put, no one knows your business better than yourself.

    Each of the individuals selected to be a member of the Compensation Committee is acknowledged as a leader/innovator, in their field. There is no question, in my mind, the total business acumen, of this committee, should be able to develop a compensation initiative that fits the “business” profile of the RCAB.

    Why spend resources on consultants? I have yet to meet a consultant without their own agenda influencing their report.

    In this electronic age – nothing is secret; the information is there you simply need to look for it. Additionally, I cannot imagine that if any member of the compensation Committee took the time to speak with other Dioceses, around the country that they could not get the information they needed.

    In my opinion, you cannot compare working for the Archdiocese of Boston to working for the City of Boston; as an example, the revenue streams are totally different. You need to compare apples to apples!

    I’ll make one political comment: Dr. Johnson is an oddity as a public employee and deserves recognition for her common sense!

    As I have written before, I acknowledge Dr. O’Neill’s outstanding credentials; however I feel her compensation is high.

    How would I determine, her compensation?
    I would look at: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago – Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Detroit

    Compare both academic and credentials of experience
    # Of Schools
    # Of Students
    Source(s) of revenue (income)
    Budget (Expenses)
    # Of employees supervised
    Cost of living

    After you look at the statistics, you need also look at the programs and initiatives that are incorporated into the schools, i.e.: special Education, Specialty Schools i.e. Music. Science.

    I would also look at the “financial size” of each of the six dioceses. Your compensation package should reflect what the ability to pay.

    Then you need to look at the Job Description of these Super indents and compare them to Dr. O’Neill’s’ – add/subtract adjust.

    Develop a “Business Plan” with Goal(s) – Accountabilities and Measurements.

    With all these comparisons evaluated, a true Job Description and a “Business” Plan in place you can then justify the compensation package to the people of God.

    • Carolyn says:


      You really get it. Thank you so much for your willingness to engage your brain in trying to guide the process so that this particular church is accountable to both Caesar and to God.

      Sometimes I picture the chancellor singing, “Help Me Squanda” to the old Beach Boys tune, “Help Me, Wanda.”

      Think about the layers of people in Finance but the tiny number of those who actually show up to do the work; the layers of people in Schools when the principals actually do the work; and the sleight of hand to inflate assets/revenue while fogging up liabilities/debts to characterize the books as balanced and still call it “transparency.”

      AJ, something tells me that for every very good employee at #66 there is an overpaid superfluous layer. Why? When the real goal of the chancellor is to do as he’s told by Jack Connors and Bryan Hehir? Oh right, part of his reward appears to be throwing jobs and business to his cronies.

      Your clear thinking helps dispel the depression that comes on thinking about our pitiful situation.

  8. TheLastCatholicinBoston says:

    …a much coveted position at Harvard…
    Coveted by whom? It is pretty clear the guy with the Red hat is very impressed with the Crimson.

    Come on, who is zooming whom?

    Totally absurd.
    This whole discussion on salaries seems like a parody of The True Church at this point.

    The grand committees! Multi-millionaires offering their 2-cents?…nauseating. Committees are formed in order to avoid making difficult decisions.

    If you can’t pull the trigger, give back the gun OK?

    Set up a free website open to all with two hours per day of solid and fun, age appropriate faith formation. Close all the anachronistic so-called catholic schools and move into the 21st century Catholic world.

    Duh, if we are supposed to bring Christ to the world shouldn’t we start by bringing well formed Catholic children to the pagan public school system?

  9. mary says:

    I don’t know what Mary Grassa O’Neill’s status was at Harvard, but most of the local colleges have hired retired teachers to work for them. We retirees who have fully funded pensions work for these colleges very cheaply and very well. ( I worked at Simmons.)

    There is absolutely no question that Dr. O’Neill is overpaid in her role. BCI proved that.

    @Devoted Catholic. Sorry about the lack of SPED in Catholic schools but it has long been the history. When I was in Catholic grammar school, the parents of the Special Needs children were encouraged to send the children to the public school which by law is required to meet their needs in the most appropriate fashion.

    • Devoted Catholic says:

      This is true… but in today’s world you have to do it. And the sad part if the catholicity and identity of the school. Seriously putting an affordable private education
      on their site and it not being affordable is horrible. Plus saying it is private really shows what their intentions are. Their #1 concern should be to be a Catholic school with prayer as a consistent flow through the school. The placing of the crucifix in every room with a statue of the Blessed Mother is not enough. There must be a consistent effort on the part of every teacher and administrator to be sure it speaks Catholic.

  10. "Just Wondering" says:

    Just Wondering is still “WONDERING”. We look to these “high end” people to establish all these “Acadamies” Did they ever think of “looking in the back yard?” What do I reference?

    In east Boston we have a Principal who is first class, underpaid and yet thinks, acts and speak “catholicity.”

    Talk about build “acadamies” in the year 29010-2011, This principal established a “Collaborative School involving four (get it – four school). With a lot of hard work and good common sense, and a Board of Directors who think and work and spell “Catholic” worked out established clear guidelines. This principal is a gem. Let me tell you wny!

    She is a graduate of the school she is now principal of. Went to college and return to this East Boston Collaborative to work first as a practicum and then as a Grade School Teacher, And work she did. In 1974 – did you read that? – 1974 she established a four-school collaborative. Not an Acamady but a Collaborative. Two of those schools are now closed but EBCCS (as it is affectionaly called) East Boston Central Catholic School is running smoothly and professionally.

    Salary? A mere pitance compared to what the present Superintendent is getting. Why doesn’t the Archdiocese help and compensate this school.

    I would challenge anybody fromn this so-call “expensive” review committee to take a look at this school and see what one person with the help of a committed Board can and did do. Keep in mind, this all started in 1974. If my math is correct that was 37 years ago. Who needs “high finance” people to
    “begin” these acadamies when they exited for 37 years ago. Who needs a new “committee” when the workings are already in place. Who needs a $245,000.00 yearly Super when principles less than one third of that salary are and have done great work. When will they be recognized?

    Christ didn’t go to “Harvard” to find the “right people”. He went to the “person in the street” and used their talents. It’s about time these high end people do the same. It’s about time these high end people start sending some money to these schools to better pay the good we have. Profession is one thing and only one thing. Profession, expeience and commitment is another.

    Let’s get that vacuum cleaner going. “Just Wondering” when it will happen!!!!!

  11. "Just Wondering" says:

    “Just Wondering” forgot to add: This wonderful principal, working with the city and State, got funding and had an elevator installed.

    Where there is a will, there is a way. Sadly, these teachers are being punished with the pension situation.

    “Just Wondering” when it will be straightened out???

    • Wonderning as well... says:

      The East Boston principal you speak of is an AMAZING example of a quality educator with strong Catholic identity who is completely invested in her work within and outside of her school. I worked with her as a member of a NEASC team visiting a school in Fall River up for accreditation. She would have been an asset in the “2010 Initiative” but I am sure she was smart enough to know what a farse that was and she’d be better off staying put.

  12. Little Red Hen says:

    A Catholic school superintendent should be motivated by a sense of mission. She should make it her business to instill a sense of mission in every Catholic school in the diocese. Her priorities should be meaningful catechesis, rigorous academics, prayer life, Marian devotion, etc. But Mary Grassa O’Neill has no sense of mission, so she had to be lured by an extravagant salary. She seeks the guidance and approval of prominent Cafeteria Catholics and she looks to the public schools as an example of how diocesan schools should be run — and how many Catholic schools have closed since she took over? Her record as superintendent is deplorable and she should be ashamed of the job she has done.

    • broken hearted Catholic says:

      “A sense of mission,” how beautifully stated. It seems there are many areas in our diocese that have no “sense of mission.”

  13. […] We seem to be having some WordPress technical issues with display of our most recent post, so before reading today, before to check out yesterday’s post, Schools Superintendent Salary Explained: Part 1. […]

  14. Gabriel Austin says:

    Another step in the dismantling of the parochial schools under the lack of concern by our episcopacy. We hear that the parochial schools have declined. We hear nothing about the those responsible for their care: the ones at top with whom the buck is meant to stop. Our bishops have for too long been coddled and kept free from reproach.

  15. DHO says:

    With Catholic schools struggling to make ends meet with bake sales and parents often having to pull kids out because they can’t make the nut every month, wouldn’t one think that she’d ditch a good portion of that salary for the kids she is supposed to SERVE? Well, I guess she did have to keep working to stay away from that [edited by BCI]. Oh, and let’s talk about the nice gig her pal [edited by BCI] got at St. Catherine’s in Norwood. Yup, former principal [edited by BCI] was whisked out of Dorchester complex to ‘get her doctorate at BC’. Seems there was trouble in paradise at her former POB in the [edited by BCI] and off to Norwood she went. This disgusts me.

    [BCI comment: please avoid personal attacks]

    • DHO says:

      Well, perhaps my jargon was a bit over the top and for that I apologize. It’s the whole farce of ‘social justice’ (aka: inside baseball) that infuriates me. Sorry.

  16. Church Mouse says:

    Few notes on comments:
    •Mary Russo was a highly regarded principal of Boston Public School’s The Murphy in Dorchester who was named Regional Director of the “Dorchester Complex” Pope John Paul II Academy see // There was much talk that she and the current RCAB Superintendant of Schools were friends as well as former colleagues. After the first year of operation of Pope John Paul II Academy (2008-2009), she suddenly resigned in the middle of August. In 2010-2011 she is listed by the Catholic School Office (CSO) as one of the RCAB’s new principals. (Principal of St. Catherine’s in Norwood.)

    “Mary Russo, regional director of Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, resigned last week to pursue a doctorate in education at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. Russo, who had been in the post for a year, played an instrumental role last fall in launching the state-of-the-art academy, created in the merger of five parochial schools in Dorchester and Mattapan. Russo said in an interview yesterday that it was a tough decision to leave. “Amazing things happened over the course of just one year,’’ said the former Boston public schools principal. “It’s hard to leave success.’’ Terrence Donilon, an archdiocese spokesman, said a search will begin for a successor. Donilon said he doubted Russo’s departure would lead to any disruption to the start of the new school year…”, MA – September 17, 2009 – “The Board of Trustees for Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy announced the appointment of Russ W. Wilson as Regional Director. Mr. Wilson most recently served as Principal of Blessed Sacrament School in Walpole, MA. He succeeds Mary Russo.”

    While the comments have been in response to Ethicspoint and the salary of the current RCAB’s Superintendent of Schools, one shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the CSO is staffed with 3 (now 2 as of 4/11) area superintendents*, 2 associate superintendents and in at least two of the Academies (Dorchester and Brockton) Regional Directors (additional area superintendents?) all of whom presumably are very well paid. In addition to these salaries those of the CSO’s support staff in Braintree and that of the Regional Directors would have to be included, providing a picture of an office with a lot of overhead.
    *One of these three positions was being funded by the Catholic School Foundation (CSF).

    Beirne Lovely was a member and for a time Chair of Milton School Committee during RCAB’s current Superintendent of Schools’ tenure as Milton School Superintendent.
    Little irony -5/31/10
    “The archdiocese, meanwhile, has struggled to regain its financial footing in the aftermath of the sexual abuse crisis. This year, the archdiocese hopes to bring its budget into balance for the first time since Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley arrived in 2003. Paying property taxes, the church argues, diverts money from its charitable and spiritual work.
    “All of the church property, basically, is relied upon as a source of support for our broad mission, which is. . . to support the poor and help the needy,’’ said F. Beirne Lovely, general counsel for the archdiocese.

  17. Gabriel Austin says:

    “The Cardinal is well within his authority to make such an appointment”.

    A real lawyer’s response, as though preparing for a trial. Who said the Cardinal did not have the authority? That’s not the question. [But it is curious that the cardinal is a member of THE order most known for preaching poverty].

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