What Are We Getting for $105? Part II. Syosset and Salaries: An Analysis

Introduction: Last week Monomakhos published a simple question by a priest in the OCA, “What are we getting for $105?”. His question sparked much debate. Monomakhos decided to dig deeper into the question to see how much bang we are getting for the buck with the present $105 assessment. The picture is not a pretty one.

Also see: What Are We Getting for $105? Part I. One Priest’s Question

Part II. Syosset and Salaries: An Analysis

Will the Church Last after 2015?

The need to look at the OCA budget is not the result of the now-famous New York Plan, which aims to cut the assessment from $105 to fifty. As mentioned in Part I of another essay, Melanie Ringa, the OCA’s Treasurer sounded the warning immediately upon taking up that office. Her warning at the 2010 Spring Metropolitan Council meeting was frightening:

“If declines in the membership and revenues continue at the pace we witnessed over the past decade, the viability of the national church will be doubtful by the year 2015.”

In a publicly traded corporation, such a warning from the chief financial officer would cause the stock of the company to take a nose-dive. Although the Church is not traded on any exchange, our stock has certainly fallen with the faithful.

Ringa’s report likewise indicates that the net assets of the OCA have taken a dramatic downturn: from just over $2 million in 2007 to $983,642 in 2010. As for the ministries of the Church, they have taken the worst hit, in that in 2009, the Metropolitan Council was forced to restrict funding for ministries from the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards. Unfortunately, that fund has sustained the greatest loss of any of the national Church’s dedicated funds. This year alone, it has taken in less than $8,000 (down from $140,000 in 2006).

The message is clear: there is a serious and urgent issue with the present financing mechanism. More to the point, the present complement of workers in Syosset is completely concentrated on administration rather than the ministries of the Church. In fact, salaries presently constitute 51% of the operating budget of the Central Administration of the OCA.

As can be gleaned from the 10 percent number, little is left for ministries, missions, and philanthropy.

Breaking Down the 51% in Salaries

Now let us take a closer look at the 51 percent number. The breakout of salaries per department:

According to Fr Tosi’s report, the OCA staff consists of 5 full-time and 4 part-time employees. In addition the Bishops receive stipends totalling $14,400. Other employees include the rector of the Representation Parish in Moscow and assorted contractors. Having said that, approximately $1.065 million is spent each year on salaries and of that number, 42% supports just three officers — including the Chancellor, the Secretary, who each make $140,000 and the Treasurer who makes $70,000 per year.

Are We Getting the Most for Our Dollar?

Some of course would say that these high salaries are mandated by the geographic location. Syosset is bounded by Scarsdale and Oyster Bay for instance and as was noted in another article, real estate prices are among the most expensive in the nation. The rationale which supposedly made paying these salaries cost-effective was that the property in Syosset was donated several decades ago. Aside from the inertia, what other benefits are derived by the OCA from keeping the chancery there?

Leaving aside for the moment the necessity for a central chancery which exists in addition to the diocesan chancery that already exists in Washington, DC, is it possible to envision a more cost-effective location? In comparing several different cities to Syosset, and using a baseline of $140,000 per annum, a cost-of-living chart based on data from www.bestplaces.net/col/ gives us the following chart:

Click to enlarge

Obviously there are a number of different locations where all the costs currently associated with Syosset would be lowered considerably (the only exception being real estate in Washington, which is 10 percent more).

Comparing Administration Salaries

The problem however is deeper than saving on salaries. The overall pay picture of the national Church is highly distorted. Even though the leadership of the Church is (ostensibly) the Bishops, in reality the administrators in Syosset make significantly more money than any of the Bishops. As noted in the budget of the Diocese of New York/New Jersey, the Bishop makes only $49,000 per annum, whereas the Chancellor makes almost $100 thousand more.

Here are the other figures: each of the three principal officers of the OCA make 37% more than the Metropolitan and $20,000 more than the Bishop of San Francisco and the West and his chancery staff combined. They each make $107,000 more than the Bishop of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania and $90,000 more than the Bishop of Boston and New England.

This is objectionable on its own merits. Unfortunately, the outrage does not stop there. This past May, the Holy Synod passed four resolutions for consideration at the All-American Council which would further hamstring the Metropolitan. The last one mandates that the Chancellor would have to be answerable to the entire Synod rather than the Metropolitan. This of course is unworkable, as common sense dictates that whoever is accountable to an entire committee is accountable to no one. Thus, this resolution would re-establish the strong Chancellor/weak Metropolitan form of government which was decried when it was practiced by Chancellor Kondratick.

Padding the Payroll

The outrages continue. The Metropolitan Council has moved to keep Fr Alexander Garklavs on the payroll as a “consultant” at his present salary (until he recieves a comparable assignment). Now that Fr John Jillions has accepted the position of Chancellor, the costs of salaries will take an even bigger piece of the pie since it is highly improbable that Fr Garklavs will be able to find anything comparable to what he is making now. (As for whether the new Chancellor will like to share office space with the old Chancellor, is another matter altogether.) The fact that the new Chancellor is the brother-in-law of a former Syosset employee also does not pass the “smell test.” If anything, it solidifies the notion that Syosset is nothing but an “old boys club” –and a very well paid one at that.

A Loss of Vision

Ronald Reagan once said that “the closest thing to immortalitiy on earth are government programs.” Bureaucrats who serve under these conditions become entrenched and survive for themselves. Intellectual inbreeding results and that leads to short-sightedness. An example of what we are talking about here is the employment of the Blackbaud accounting system. So far this has cost the OCA $100,000 and it is still not fully operational. It was to be financed in part by fund-raising but giving to the national Church has taken a nosedive, partly because of the internecine squabbles which presently characterize the OCA. Even if these funds were raised, Blackbaud has substantial ongoing costs. A case could certainly be made that Blackbaud will prove to be nothing but an economic black hole that will continue to drain monies for the forseeable future.

So what have we to show for this? A central administration which does not evangelize, set up missions, augment the salaries of missionary-priests, or contribute to charity. Instead, we have diverted attention to the trappings of Best Practices, Long-Term Strategic Goals, and fancy accounting systems. These changes are not bad in and of themselves but at this point they appear to be cosmetic and represent a golden calf, an idol attended by high priests who are better paid than the Bishops and the hundreds of rectors who do the actual work of the Church.

We have lost sight of the one thing needful.


  1. George,

    Just a couple of remarks on your very thought provoking installment of the latest topic; Ms Ringa makes $70K a year for her part time treasurer work.

    The chancery is located in Oyster Bay Cove, and even more exclusive area on the north shore of Long Island than is Syosset. Scarsdale is in Westchester County not on Long Island.

    Tosi $140K, Garklavs $140K (he is not going to find a better paying job in any OCA parish, so he will be on the payroll and if he does he gets a $50K golden parachute when he leaves. ) Jillions $140K although his salary and benefits package were discussed by the MC in “executive session” so he might be making more. Did he sign a contract for more than one year? Is there a buyout clause? What if he is a flop and the HS wants him out like they did Garklavs? How much will that cost? And of course Ms. Ringa at $70K plus the cost of the HS and the MC and the support staff at Syosset.

    Sounds like the pray, pay and obey days to support the lavish ways in Syosset are still in full force. Secret deals made behind closed doors and we poor saps trying to scrape by in a depressed economy. My first responsibility is to my parish priest who makes a salary of $32K in an area just as expensive as the Syosset fat cats, something doesn’t add up.

    Now we have the “honor” to schlep across the USA to Seattle to be schooled on how vital the Syosset administration is to my life in my parish; into thinking that we are getting value for our assessment dollars? Based on those pathetic AAC reports, we are getting about $50 worth of value. And to add insult to injury, my parish had to pay another tax for the privilege of going to the AAC on top of paying the assessments. Do these guys think we are that stupid? It may be another cast of characters in Syosset but it is the same old bottom line for us out here.

    Keeping the assessment at $105 is an insult to the hard working clergy many of whom have to work another job to feed their families. I would rather keep the extra money from a lower assessment and give my priest an immediate raise with the saved money. He might not have to work another job if we did that!

    One way or another I think Syosset is going to get a lot less income starting in 2012, either by doing the right thing and lowering the assessment or by people just not paying it or only paying $50 whether Syosset likes it or not. I know that my priest is not going to stop ministering to my family if I only give $50 to Syosset.

    Hey, Syosset fat cats, it is going to be $50 one way or another. Start planning.

  2. Someone clue me in: What are the consequences of not paying the assessment, or partiallly paying the assessment? Let’s assume for a moment that the resolution does not pass, or it passes, and the bishops forbid it (which is the more likely scenario)? What if parishes just start sending in $50? OK, so they don’t get to vote in the AAC. Big deal. What else could be taken away? No desk calendar?

    • George Michalopulos says

      Probably nothing. I just think that priests will go on underreporting the numbers.

      • Put yourself in the shoes of a priest/parish council. I don’t think there’s much under-reporting going on. I would think priests are not happy when then have to show that their numbers have gone down. Most priests I know would love for their numbers to go up! This is not about cheating the system, this is about paying for people that actually pay. Who’s going to send a $105 assessment for someone that comes to church on Pascha and buys three candles?

        The action in the church is on the local level, not the diocese, not the CA. Money is needed in the parish to make it run. The OCA needs a Tea Party.

        • As a data point: My understanding is that my OCA parish only sends the assessment in for those that have paid it. We have a parish assessment of $200 per employed adult. That covers the OCA assessment and a Dof WPa assessment. I’m not sure that the parish has anything left to keep. So my wife and I pay $400, but my 17 and 20 year old daughters don’t pay because they are students. BTW, there are many parishoners that pay the assessment but I have never seen them, at least not in recent years. Mostly, they are elderly shut-ins suffering health issues. So at my parish there may in some ways be over-reporting compared to those you would count at a well attended service.

  3. You know the other side of the assessment coin is that when the OCA assessment becomes too burdensome on the parish, and the diocese also has its own head tax, even if the diocese doesn’t increase theirs, the diocese suffers too. I remember somewhere that someone did a report at an AAC tracking census population vs. the OCA assessment. There was a direct correlation that when the OCA head tax went up, census numbers went down. So there is a double whammy with the diocese suffering as collateral damage and getting less money through no fault of their own.

    This again shows the shortsighted leadership of Syosset and maybe dioceses too who take the course of least resistance perpetuating the head tax approach to funding the work of the Church. With a lower assessment I bet that census numbers would stabilize and maybe even go up as parishes would be less reluctant to under report. But as long as census figures are used to tax parishes and dioceses, parishes will always adjust the numbers to keep more funds local.

    I don’t know this for a fact, but I bet parishes in the DOS who don’t have to report census numbers to Dallas would run counter to the above correlation of OCA head tax and census decline. But Syosset has always had a top down approach instead of seeing things from the parish up. I guess when you are making $140K a year it is hard to imagine how the “little people” live.

    • That $140K number that keeps popping up is total compensation. Actual salary is likely 25 to 60% less than that $140K number. The total compensation that the OCA must budget for includes at least: employer portion of social security, employer portion of medicare, health care plan, pension plan contribution, and state unemployment insurance. It may also include, if the OCA is anything like my employer: dental plan, vision plan, 401K employer match, employer purchased life insurance, and employer purchase disability insurance. So the $140K compensation is more like $56 to $105K actual salary. We would need more data to pin it down further. Still, $105K is not out of line for these positions and location. IMHO.

      • JD

        This is the bottom line compensation package. Whether in salary or in total compensation, us folks need to pony up that amount to pay these folks. If you say that $105K is in keeping with these positions, etc. why does the Metropolitan get paid less? What value are we getting for paying these salaries?

        The OCA is declining. Its standing in the international Orthodox community is at an all-time low. Not one, NOT ONE person represented the OCA this past weekend in Constantinople for the 20th anniversary of Bartholomew as EP. +Justinian of the MP here in the USA was there! But not the OCA. What signal does that send about us here?

        So, yes, your point is well taken but the question before the Church still is, are we getting value for our money?

        • Jacob says

          why does the Metropolitan get paid less?

          That is an interesting question. I suspect that the Metropolitan also gets a salary from his own diocese? I know he used to get income as locum tenens of other diocese but that has all been taken away now.

          Jacob says

          Not one, NOT ONE person represented the OCA this past weekend in Constantinople for the 20th anniversary of Bartholomew as EP.

          I understand that the OCA wasn’t invited. I know that I am not inclined to crash a party. The OCA did publically send its congrats though!

          • What the Metropolitan gets from 9 parishes in his DC diocese does not bring him up to those who are working for him in Syosset. Look at the organizational chart. Who is, at least on paper, on the top of the chart? Let’s put it in terms of the parish. If in a parish all positions were paid, do you think that the parish council president, secretary and treasurer should be paid more than the parish priest?

            If the folks in Syosset are going to wait for an invitation to Constantinople, they are gonna be sitting around for a long time waiting for the phone to ring. You think that the previous administration just sat there and waited for the phone to ring? You make your opportunities.

      • You are quite correct, this is total compensation. In the executive section of the budget, the Salary line item is $317,000, divided between 3.5 people, Melanie Ringa being part time. So that puts salary at about $90.6K each.
        However the benefits do not look like what is usual and customary in the private sector. You, don’t get a housing allowance, for example, but $43K is budgeted for that. (The MC minutes note that this was to be a benefit preserved for Fr. Garglavs, IIRC)
        How many companies continue to fund pensions for employees? The OCA does. OCA Medical benefits at one time were considered “Cadillac” I cannot see specifics in the published budget. But when the benefits work out to about 42% of salary, those are pretty good benefits. Many items are funded as benefits and not salary for clergy because of the favorable income tax treatment they can enjoy when it is done that way.

        Every parish should pay their clergy in a way that helps their Priest keep every dime that they legally can. No beef with any of this.

        Look, I don’t begrudge folks a salary commensurate with the market, their skills, and the cost of living. The issue here is that all those things are high premium in Syosset, and there is no compelling reason to be in this location. Moreover, for the great salary, I would expect great results. Top pay should not be given for fogging a mirror, or even just because you work hard.

        Top compensation should be given for doing the right things right. At leadership levels, the pay rewards skillfully navigating around the jagged rocks that could damage or destroy the organization. It rewards vision, strategic thinking, and guts.

        It is when we look at this pay within the employment universe of the OCA clergy, rather than within the employment universe of Oyster Bay, that our parish clergy look impoverished. And when the bishops look impoverished – it is worth a bit of discussion.

        • Thanks Trey. Your post clarifies things. I can’t say that I would take the job of chancellor for $90k. Especially with the bar you set for expectations. I pray that Fr. Jillions is up to the job and that everyone will extend him much goodwill. As to employer pension plans you are correct – they are in decline. I have one but new hires at my company only have a pumped up 401k. As for a housing allowance: many clergy have a parsonage so it is perhaps expected whereas in industry the housing allowance is common only for temporary assignments where permanent relocation is not called for.

          • You can’t think of housing allowance for clergy in the same way as housing allowance for an employee who is working away from home, or on temporary assignment. They’re two different things. The only reason clergy are paid both a salary and housing allowance is becuase of the US tax code. It reduces the burden of taxes for them. If that tax loophole didn’t exist, there would be no such category as clergy housing allowance. They would simply be on straight salary.

          • The level of expectation that I lay out is not outlandish. It is basic management 101. While these compensation packages may be competitive in that portion of NY, they are well past a standard deviation off within the OCA norm of compensation packages. These folks, even part time folks, are making more than the bishops who theoretically rule this church. If staff gets paid 40% – 120% more than the executives they support – and these are staff positions, then you bet your boots I have high expectations for performance.

            My concern is that we have a collection of people in Syosset that work very hard at an agenda that does not serve the Church well. And then the staff are resentful because people do not appreciate all of their hard work. Just go read Fr. Tosi’s report, it drips of this, as well as of typos and terrible grammar.

            There is a bitter lesson for the faithful of the OCA, and just perhaps for the Syosset staff. No matter what technology is employed, or software purchased, or Best Practices developed, or committee oversight practiced, the faithful do not worship great technology, or processes or oversight. Moreover, and pertinent to the discussion of the $50/member, the faithful do not contribute for the sake of great technology, or Best Practices, or endless committee oversight.

            People will give to support the vision of Christ, and Him glorified. They will support good works, and spreading of the Gospel, and and the building of churches, and the support of new missions. They will not contribute to support Machiavellian schemes, and intramural food fights. All the fancy technology in the world will not cover up the cynical turf wars.

            This backstabbing take down of the Metropolitan, the disrespectful public exposure of the Synod activities, the MC’s attempt to elbow their way to the Synod table, all of this is scandalous to the membership.

            People did not want to support the scandal of Met. Herman, and now we have replaced that circus with a new one, this one starring the Central Administration, the Metropolitan Council, with a couple of bishops in supporting roles vs. a Metropolitan who has been repeatedly and publicly humiliated by those who should most support him in brotherly love and guidance. It frankly makes us look like idiots on the world stage.

            If Father Jillions can bring an end to this backbiting and acrimony, bless him forever. Do you think that will happen if his predecessor continues to haunt the halls of Syosset? And do you think that if one chancellor at $140K is good, that 2 at that price will be better?

            • George Michalopulos says

              Trey, what you say is 100% correct. We’ve seen in the DOS what can happen when there is love and support.

        • Let’s be clear that housing allowance for clergy is not a perk, but rather a total part of their compensation package. The reason this is so is ONLY because of a tax loophole in the US tax code which allows for that particular compensation not to be taxed as income, except for social security. So we can’t really compare any other position in public or private industry, since that tax situation is unique. So when you’re analyzing a priest’s salary (or in this case, Syosset staff), count it as income, which it essentially is.

          • George Michalopulos says

            Regardless, any way you cut it, it’s a sweet deal. Far better than anything 98% of the other priests in the OCA are getting.

      • JD, even so, I guarantee you that 95% of the people in the OCA don’t have “compensation packages” anywhere near $140K. I would go so far as to bet the farm that there are not five (5) priests in the OCA who make over $95K. That’s the issue, not whether it’s compensation vs. salary. Either way, it’s bloody egregious.

  4. George,

    Your point regarding the insulation of the Central Administration staff and the resulting “echo chamber” decisions made in that rarified air is a good one.

    I looked at the latest budget, and the Blackbaud fees (that can be identified) are listed at $20,000 this year. So I got curious and Googled Blackbaud and did a little poking around.

    Syosset has purchased at least 2 products from Blackbaud – one is called Raiser’s Edge, software to assist in fundraising efforts. The second is Financial Edge, which is an accounting package and can integrate with the Raiser’s Edge software. Depending on what bells and whistles and how many “user licenses” are purchased, the prices begin at $25,000 and go up to $100,000 or so. Once purchased, this software has an annual maintenance fee of about 30% of the software cost, say $5000 to $30,000 per year.

    The lion’s share of the budget in Syosset is raised through Diocesan Assessments. Raiser’s Edge is not required for that. But looking back to the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards and other fund raising in the Statement of Activities vs. budget for the OCA, the total funds collected to date this year are less than $3000 to date.

    Blackbaud reviews indicate that it is powerful and effective fundraising software. Yet the OCA fundraising would indicate the OCA has had little fundraising success since adding Blackbaud, despite this large investment. Do we have any staff at Syosset dedicated to raising funds for the OCA? If not, why are we investing in this software?

    Blackbaud’s website has success stories of fundraising campaigns of $25 million and more. That’s more than the OCA’s entire budget ten times over. I am reminded of my Depression era mom, who, when clothes shopping for us would often would buy winter coats “Just a little large, so you can wear it next winter, too.” In this case, it seems that the OCA has purchased a men’s coat, sized extra large, for a five year old boy.

  5. I think this is the closest active thread to the topic of “Stokoe/Syosset blows”. So I thought I should post here that everybody’s favorite defrocked deacon, Archbishop Lazar, has posted a video purporting to support Metropolitan Jonah in opposition to the vicious attacks against him. He also defends the people of Canada taking up a collection to hire a barrister to defend Archbishop Seraphim in his legal troubles.

    I agree with the spirit of what he has to say, although I don’t like the archbishop’s picking on national differences. The American legal system also holds that one is innocent until proven guilty, and Americans also provide legal defence for people charged with a crime who can’t afford their own representation. Whether or not individual people in each country internalize these values is their own problem, not a difference in culture or what have you.

    As for Metropolitan Jonah, Archbishop Lazar’s support is peppered with phrases like “as long as he is Metropolitan” and “respect the office”. He makes it sound like that’s the *only* reason to support Metropolitan Jonah right now. As it stands, Metropolitan Jonah has received abominable treatment from several people. He deserves respect not only as our Metropolitan, but as a human being. Metropolitan Jonah made a few mistakes, but he certainly hasn’t done anything to deserve being deposed, which is the worst possible legitimate punishment that they could throw at him. Lying about him and humiliating him is, of course, completely out of the question, and Archbishop Lazar rightly condemns that behavior.

    This is also interesting in that it comes from the same person who said, “I have no doubt that if [an Orthodox priest with whom he disagrees] was not constrained by the law, he would be actively burning people at the stake or herding them into gas chambers. Thank God for secular governments that prevent his ilk from carrying out their immoral pit and pendulum fantasies. But moral outrage is always a form of confession.” Indeed, Your Eminence. Indeed.