Continuing with this year’s compensation reports, we move on to examine the executive director compensation at 33 ROPA & IGSOBM symphonic ensembles with annual budgets over $1 million. Following last year’s report, we discovered that the discrepancy between executive and musician base salaries was considerably larger than their counterparts in ICSOM ensembles.
Let’s see what the numbers tell us for this year…
Where The Numbers Come From
The following “executive director (also called president and/or CEO) compensation” and “total ensemble expenditures” figures were obtained from the respective orchestra’s 2003 IRS Form 990.
The “musician base salary” figures were obtained from records collected by the AFM and IGSOBM (Tucson) for the 2002-2003 concert season (which corresponds with the 2003 IRS Form 990).
The executive director compensation figures include the combined amounts reported as what the IRS classifies as “compensation” and “contributions to employee benefit plans & deferred compensation”. However, each orchestra does not always report figures for the latter category.
The musician base salary figures collected by the AFM for ROPA ensembles are done so on an annual basis and reported in a booklet entitled Wage Scales & Conditions in the Symphony Orchestra. However, the majority of “Musician Base Salary” figures are not salary figures at all since only nine of the ensembles pay a fixed salary to a portion of their musicians. The remaining musicians are all paid on a sliding “per service” scale.
Adaptistration makes no claim to the accuracy of information from documents compiled by external sources.
What The Numbers Don’t Show
It’s important to remember that the numbers shown do not always tell the entire story. For example, an executive director may have had a large increase in salary because they were leaving a position (either on their own volition or not) and per terms of their contract they may have received a sizeable severance or deferred compensation package. As such, the cumulative compensation may artificially inflate their annual earnings.
These figures may not reflect bonuses or other incentive payments, therefore underreporting what executives may earn. Also missing from the figures are expense accounts and other perks, which are rarely reported on the IRS Form 990’s. As such, the cumulative compensation for executive directors may or may not be more than what is listed.
Unlike their peers in ICSOM ensembles who all earn no less than the “Musician Base Salary” (with a few exceptions), all ROPA ensembles use a tiered system of salary and/or per service payments. For example, although the Toledo Symphony may list a base musician salary of $23,081, only 43 out of 73 musicians are covered by the salary figure. The remaining 30 players are paid using the sliding per service tier system.
In the all per service ensembles, the figures listed in the “Musician Base Salary” are actually the average annual income earned by section string players (or section wind players if no information for the string players was available). This figure is reported by the AFM because it best represents the annual earnings for the musicians who usually perform the greatest number of services in any per service orchestra; string musicians.
These figures do not include any of the opera or ballet organizations which are members of ROPA or IGSOBM.
How Things Compare To Last Year
- According to these figures, the average executive director for a ROPA ensemble earns 717% more than a base salary musician, which is a 7.79% increase over last year’s figure of 644%.
- Compared to the figures from 2002, the average executive director compensation increased 8.62% as compared to the average ROPA base musician salary increase of 7.34%.
Who Earns The Most?
Ten executive directors earn over $100,000 in annual compensation:
- Toledo Symphony’s Robert Bell earned $179,313
- Rhode Island Philharmonic’s David Wax earned $161,690
- Pacific Symphony’s John Forsyte earned $155,452
- Grand Rapids Symphony’s William Ryberg earned $145,648
- Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Christopher Gueri earned $128,388
- Austin Symphony’s Jim Reagan earned $128,167
- Omaha Symphony’s Robert Hallam earned $119,453
- Dayton Philharmonic’s Curtis Long earned $111,656
- Wichita Symphony’s Mitchell Berman earned $110,300
- Hartford Symphony’s Charles Owens earned $102,652
Who Gained The Most?
These managers enjoyed increases nearly three times and more the average increase in executive compensation (Richmond is excluded due to their ED serving only in an interim capacity and the previous ED only served for a partial season):
- Erie Philharmonic’s Eric Borenstein received a 42.46% increase
- Toledo Symphony’s Robert Bell received a 36.93% increase
- California Symphony’s Stacey Street received a 24.945 increase
- Elgin Symphony’s Michael Pastreich received a 23.57% increase
The debate surrounding whether or not ROPA ensemble executive directors should be earning in excess of 700% more than the average musicians in their orchestra is one which stirs up intense emotions among musicians and managers alike. Although it was good to see both groups make gains above the national rate of inflation, more than half of these organizations pay their average musicians less than the U.S. poverty threshold for a family of one. Only seven ensembles pay their average musician enough to rise above the U.S. poverty threshold for a family of four.
One of the classic viewpoints among some executive managers in ROPA orchestras to explain the extreme disparity in pay scales is the issue of time. Remember, even in the few ROPA orchestras which do pay a salary for a portion of their musicians, the longest of those seasons is 42 weeks, which equates to something similar to the time frame a public school teacher is employment.
However, it is worth noting that the executive directors at the top of the earning list earn as much or more than their peers in the lower budget ICSOM ensembles. Some of those same ICSOM ensembles have comparable budgets yet manage to pay the majority of their musicians a salary as opposed to a per service scale. While other ICSOM ensembles have much larger budgets but don’t pay their managers as much, thus indicating they use a significantly different scale for measuring success.
For example, in Wichita their executive director earns more than their peers in three ICSOM ensembles. At the same time, the budget for Wichita is two to three times smaller than those same ensembles and none of the Wichita musicians are paid a salary. Other ROPA orchestras which maintain large discrepancies between how the much of their budgets are directed toward the musicians include California, Canton, Elgin, Dayton, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.
Another point worth keeping an eye on is the eleven ROPA ensembles which reported a decline in overall expenditures. Although some of the changes were negligible, there were a handful of cases where the changes between the executive’s compensation, the average musician’s salary, and the overall expenditures don’t parallel each other.
For example, in Mississippi Symphony their overall expenditures decreased by $132,240 in addition to the average musician earning $2,235 less; however, the executive director received a $4,500 increase.
Why do such large discrepancies between executive directors and musicians exist at all? I had a conversation not long ago with one executive director from an ensemble whose average musician salary is lower than the U.S. poverty threshold who said “I don’t hear the musicians in my orchestra complain about my salary.” Why then should they have a guilty conscious?
The answer falls in the neighborhood of whether or not the musicians make a deliberate effort to review their executive director’s performance. Do they track institutional goals? Are musicians allowed regular representation on all board and administrative committees where they can take notes, receive copies of any SG&A based handouts, and request additional information as needed? If so, then they are in a fair position to offer relevant input to the executive board members regarding whether or not the executive director deserves a change in compensation.
Furthermore, the level of participation among board members in ROPA ensembles varies greatly. Some may take a high level of interest whereas others spend a minimal amount of time on executive review duties. How much time and effort do boards spend auditing institutional information (beyond the typical benign financial audit performed every year or so)?
At the top of this hierarchical pattern you’ll find the definitive question; “Is this the best way for ROPA ensembles to operate?”
Since 80% of these same organizations have already filed their 2004 IRS Form 990, the heading “foreshadowing” isn’t quite accurate. Nevertheless, the remaining 20% are the largest budget organizations so any significant changes in how they functioned can change the averages considerably.
One noticeable event is in one of the smaller budget organizations; an executive director received a 45% increase in compensation while the musicians received a 6.62% cut in average compensation yet the overall expenditures saw an 11.5% increase.