Saturday, November 26, 2005

Thomas Hall: Why I am running for the STRS Board

Thomas E. Hall

Professor of Economics

Miami University, Oxford

Why I am running for the STRS Board

I am a candidate for the STRS Board because I believe I have important skills to offer the membership. I hold a doctorate in economics, and have been a professor at Miami University since 1982. I have published a book on business cycles, and have developed considerable expertise successfully managing my own portfolio of stock market assets. I am knowledgeable about how the economy operates, and the factors that impact values of stocks, bonds, and real estate– the assets that constitute the bulk of the STRS investment portfolio.

I was truly outraged a few years ago when I learned that the value of STRS’s investments had dropped $12 billion. Then came the news about rampant spending by the STRS Board on trips, meals, entertainment, and art. I found myself asking the same questions I’m sure most members did: How could these things have happened? Is my pension secure?

If elected, I will do the following:

1. Focus on holding down the costs of operating STRS. This means running STRS in a financially prudent manner, minimizing overhead, avoiding administrative bloat, and not allowing board members, or anyone else for that matter, to treat the investment portfolio as a pot they can dip into as they please.

2. Intelligently oversee the management of the investment portfolio. This includes ensuring that STRS investments are safe and properly diversified.

3. Strictly adhere to Ohio Revised Code Section 3307.15 which states that STRS Board members must act solely on the behalf of STRS members and their beneficiaries.

4. Work to find avenues which will permit the continuance of health care and prescription drug benefits at current or possibly reduced cost to STRS retirees.

5. Communicate with and be responsive to all members including retirees.

6. Support and lobby for state legislation that benefits STRS members.

(Submitted by Tom Curtis)

John Curry: 29 days 'till Christmas, 16 days 'till Hazel Sidaway's ethics trial!

In case some have forgotten, Hazel Sidaway's scheduled trial to a judge (no jury) is 16 days away and counting. What's going to happen?
A. The trial will proceed as scheduled
B. The trial will be postponed
C. The charges will be dropped
D. Hazel will cop a plea
John, a Proud CORE member
For the latest STRS commentary go to:
ORC 3307.15 - not just a wish,

RH Jones responds to Jim Fedako (Board member sinking own ship)

From: RH Jones
Sent: Saturday, November 26, 2005
Subject: Re: Board member sinking own ship-a complete copy!

An "open letter" to Jim Fedako:

It is quite surprising that Mr. Fedako sets on the Olentagy BD of ED and does not realize that: Yes, indeed! Public school are answerable to the market place. The market place being the voting citizens of the Local & State BDs of ED. And, is our nation not a republic? To support our public schools, voters approve school levies, state & national taxes. Without this voter approval, there would be no public school districts, or the funds to sustain them. And, yes, we vote for school BD members to represent us; and, we hold them accountable too.

A proud CORE Member & a free American citizen who holds public schools accountable through the right to vote.

Letter to the Editor from a school board member sinking his own ship

Charter schools accountable to the market
Columbus Dispatch
Saturday, November 26, 2005

Charter schools and accountability are once again making the headlines. A common claim is that charter schools are not held to a high level of accountability, but that claim is not based on a complete understanding of market forces.

Charters are held to the highest level of accountability: the market. A charter school that fails to serve a student or parent will soon see the child transferred elsewhere.

In addition, a charter school that does not satisfy the wants and desires of a sufficient number of parents and students is bound to fail.

Parents have a host of reasons for placing their children in charter schools. In the school market, safety, delivery of instruction, rigor, academic concentration, etc., may trump tested outcomes.

That parents are utilizing charter schools shows that they believe that their children will be best served at these schools. One must never lose sight that parents seek the best for their children. But not everyone adheres to such a view.

As evidenced by his Nov. 16 letter, Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, along with other opponents of charters, appears to believe that he knows what’s best for every child, under every circumstance.

This is quite an authoritarian and omniscient stance to take.

Charter-movement opponents also appear to fear the market. But why would they if they are indeed providing a higher-quality product?

Member Olentangy Local Board of Education
Lewis Center

Article: Retired educators question legislators (Oklahoma)

"Jackson responded to a question about the need for additional health insurance premium support for retirees. He said he will sponsor a bill to lower the premium rates paid by pre-Medicare retirees. He will consider supporting a bill, to be sponsored by Rep. Terry Ingmire, R-Stillwater, that would pay the full amount of Medicare retirees’ premiums."

Published: November 26, 2005

(Enid, OK Newspaper)

Retired educators question legislators

State Rep. Mike Jackson and state Sen. Patrick Anderson answered questions and listened to comments from members of Garfield County Retired Educators at the group’s November meeting.

The two legislators were asked about several issues expected to come up in the 2006 legislative session.

One issue concerning GCRE members is a proposal formerly called “wear-away,” now referred to as Educators’ Extended Service Incentive Program. The proposal primarily would benefit people who will retire at the higher end of the pension scale and would be of no benefit to current retirees. GCRE members believe it would add to the liability of the Oklahoma Retired teachers Systems (OTRS) and are opposed to it.

Jackson, R-Enid, said he did not support the proposal. Anderson, R-Enid, also expressed doubts about the plan but said it likely would pass in the Senate because of strong support from groups such as the Council for Oklahoma School administration, which represents superintendent and other administrators.

Jackson responded to a question about the need for additional health insurance premium support for retirees. He said he will sponsor a bill to lower the premium rates paid by pre-Medicare retirees. He will consider supporting a bill, to be sponsored by Rep. Terry Ingmire, R-Stillwater, that would pay the full amount of Medicare retirees’ premiums.

Both legislators also agreed when excess dollars are available in the state budget some of that revenue should go to pay down the unfunded liability of OTRS. Anderson said the unfunded liability has a negative impact on the state’s fund rating, which means the state has to pay higher interest rates on the funds it issues.

Joe Struckle, former president of Northwestern Oklahoma State University, said a group of former college presidents has been working on a plan that would make OTRS solvent in approximately 16 years. It would involve a slight increase in the amount active employees, school districts, colleges and the state contribute to OTRS. Both legislators expressed interest in hearing more about the plan.

Brenda Faust, spokesperson for GCRE, expressed appreciation to Jackson and Anderson for their time and interests.

“We applaud them for being willing to take on some tough questions,” said Brenda Faust, GCRE spokeswoman. “The upcoming legislative session is going to be vitally important to education retirees. We must stay in contact with our legislators so that they will know the issues of concern to us.”

Article: Charters face supreme test

Sides will debate the constitutionality of schools in front of state’s top court
Saturday, November 26, 2005

In the state’s most significant education lawsuit since the long-running school-funding case, the Ohio Supreme Court is to hear arguments Tuesday in a dispute over the constitutionality of charter schools.

The court’s decision could affect the education of 66,000 students attending the 297 publicly funded, privately operated schools across Ohio.

A coalition of teachers unions, parents and school districts says that charter schools violate Ohio’s constitution by draining money from public schools while failing to meet academic standards.

Supporters say charter schools give a tuition-free option to students struggling in traditional public schools and provide competition that encourages districts to improve.

"They’ve created this shadow system of privately owned and privately administered schools the public pays for," said Donald J. Mooney, a Cincinnati attorney representing the coalition that filed the lawsuit in 2001.

"This case will decide whether legitimate public schools will have enough money to do their jobs and will say a lot about how far the state can go to privatize public schools."

The Ohio Department of Education projects that charter schools will receive $444 million in aid from the state this year.

The General Assembly in 1997 passed a law allowing the creation of charter schools. Supporters say the schools are merely another alternative in Ohio’s public-school system, much like magnet or alternative schools.

"These public schools don’t charge tuition, they are open to everybody and they aren’t religious schools, just like other public schools," said Deputy State Solicitor Stephen P. Carney, who is representing the Ohio Department of Education and other defendants. "The only thing that’s different is that they are run by a board that is not elected by voters.

"The issue in the case is whether the Ohio Constitution allows our legislature to give parents a choice within the public-school system."

A Franklin County Common Pleas judge threw out the constitutional issues raised by the coalition. The Franklin County Court of Appeals later ruled that the trial court failed to consider several issues.

The constitution, Mooney said, "requires a single ‘thorough and efficient system of common schools.’

"Such a system requires that strict academic guidelines must be developed and rigorously followed throughout all of Ohio’s public school districts."

Yet, three-quarters of the charter schools rated by the state were found to be academically deficient, Mooney said.

Carney said charter schools are held every bit as accountable.

"These schools face the strongest form of accountability there is: They have to keep a parent and student happy" enough to keep the student in school or they’ll lose the state aid, he said.

Charter schools also are subject to state audits and Ohio’s public-records law.

Supporters say opponents have raised valid concerns, many of which have led state lawmakers and education officials to change charter-school regulations. For example, poorperforming schools that fail to show improvement on student testing will be shut down. In 2002, the legislature imposed academic-testing requirements on charter schools that more closely mirror those of traditional public schools.

The source of charter-school funding is another disputed issue.

Mooney said that diverting scarce resources from "legitimate" public schools has exacerbated Ohio’s school-funding problems — the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the system unconstitutional four times but lawmakers have yet to fix it — and makes it harder for public schools to do their job.

Critics say that charter schools get a portion of local property-tax revenue in addition to money the state provides. This means that voters who approved the tax have no say on how it is spent because local school boards don’t run charter schools.

Carney said the assertion is untrue. "Every single dollar that goes to a community school comes from the state general revenue fund."

Last week, a Democratic state senator from Toledo called on Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and other justices of the Ohio Supreme Court who have received campaign contributions from one of the state’s largest charter-school operators to back out of the case.

Sen. Teresa Fedor said David Brennan, of Akron, and his family have contributed $130,000 since 1992 to Supreme Court campaigns, including $11,500 to Moyer.

"A responsible jurist would recuse him or herself from a case where questions could be raised about his or her alliances," Fedor said.

Court spokesman Chris Davey said Moyer is not stepping down and, as far as he knows, none of the other justices plan to, either.

"The court hears oral arguments in about 100 cases a year and it’s not unusual for a party to a case or counsel to a party in a case to have donated to one or more of the justices," he said, adding that, "A campaign contribution is not a basis for recusing themselves from a case."

Dispatch reporter James Nash contributed to this story.

Article (pdf): A charter school audit that would make anybody sick!

If you have a telephone modem, better skip this one. Adobe pages 23-33 will make one ill! Thanks to Ryan Holderman, we have this charter school news. Even Betty Montgomery found it distasteful. Click on the link below to access the audit findings. John

From: Ryan Holderman
To: John Curry
Sent: Saturday, November 26, 2005 1:48 PM
Subject: Auditor's report on Greater Cincinnati Community Academy

Dear John:

You might find this report interesting reading...especially the last 8 or 10 pages (23-33)


Shortcut to:

Article: More Tax Dollars For Failed Charter School Leader

Greater Cincinnati Community Academy Exposed by Channel 12 (Cincinnati)-or,shall we say,caveat emptor


Homework is a lot tougher for 11-year-old Kendall these days. He's in a new school, more demanding than where he used to go. Greater Cincinnati Community Academy is one of Ohio's 250 publicly financed, but privately operated charter schools. GCCA closed in June.

Local 12 did an investigation of GCCA three years ago. We found financial problems. GCCA secretly kept employee retirement money, and also overbilled the state nearly $1 million for handicapped students the school could not actually document.

We also found ethical problems. GCCA Superintendent Marie Congo hired friends and relatives for big salaries. Her husband, Arthur, made $77,922 dollars a year. Congo's former business partner, Janet Perry, who had been fired by the Cincinnati Public Schools for gross inefficiency as a teacher, was making $87,000.

We also found academic problems. When GCCA was given its charter by the state of Ohio, the school promised, in a contract, to raise student performance. GCCA failed miserably, some scores even went down to single digit passing rates.

GCCA did pay back the money it owed the state and its employees, but problems continued. Enrollment plummeted, and after getting $17 million worth of taxpayer dollars, GCCA was history.

While Greater Cincinnati Community Academy may have closed its doors in Cincinnati, the school is far from dead. It has merely moved 100 miles or so to Columbus.

The school has a brand new sponsor and a brand new name, the George Washington Carver Preparatory Academy. However, the same person, Marie Congo, is in charge.

Critics are outraged.

"For us to allow a con artist from Cincinnati, when they're finally exposed, to go a couple of hours up the road, a couple of seconds by e-mail, to set up the same con, shame on us," said Tom Mooney, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

However, the organization inviting GCCA up the highway says it's a wise move, and despite the school's baggage, it's okay for the baggage handler to come along.

The new sponsor, The Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, has installed a new school board, and promises strict oversight for the school and Dr. Congo. Buckeye Hope says the new GCCA is a legitimate alternative to the troubled Columbus system.

"I really believe with new leadership, completely new staff and with the state turning over the role of education and sponsorship to other organizations, it's going to be a whole new dynamic," said Anthony English, Carver Prep Board Chairman.

State Senator Teresa Fedor, however, thinks Ohio's charter school law needs to be tightened up, to keep places like GCCA from rising from the dead.

"The charter school laws are so permissive in Ohio," said Senator Teresa Fedor. "They're allowed to shop for another sponsor, so you have these bad actors and bad apples going from one sponsor to another. They can probably exist for another 20 years."

Parents at Carver Prep say the school is off to a good start.

However, parents at the new GCCA do not know about the old GCCA. If they did, they might have a few questions.

Jeff Hirsh, Local 12

Article: Board sues to close own charter school

By Kimball Perry and Randy Ludlow, Post staff reporters
Publication date: 03-26-02

The board of directors of a charter school sued to close it Monday, saying the company running the SABIS International School of Cincinnati is too concerned with turning a profit and has made the school financially insolvent.

It filed the suit Monday in Hamilton County Commons Pleas Court, saying it was untrained and duped when it signed the contract with a for-profit affiliate of SABIS Educational Inc., Cincinnati Education Management, to operate the school.

The Mount Auburn school, which has 658 kindergarten through sixth-grade students and largely is funded by $3.5 million in state tax dollars, is open for classes, said Derrick Shelton, director of the school.

He was unaware of the lawsuit.

''Cincinnati Education Management used its superior bargaining position, knowledge and resources to obtain a charter from the Ohio Department of Education through a non-profit corporation that was established merely as a pass-through entity for the benefit of the for-profit SABIS enterprise system,'' the suit notes.

The board said based on its liabili ties to Cincinnati Education Management - as well as the siphoning of all excess revenue - the school can't protect itself from creditors and ''should be judicially dissolved,'' noted a March 23 affidavit by Board Secretary Inyeai Ororokuma.

''The management company appeared to be using the school to make huge profits,'' minutes from a Nov. 12, 2001, special meeting of the school's board added.

It was at that meeting the board unanimously voted to give six-month notice to end its agreement with the management company, believing it was unfairly holding more power over the school than was the board.

''On numerous occasions, the board has requested information or documentation from (Cincinnati Education Management) and has had no cooperation,'' board president Tracey Lowe wrote in a Dec. 6, 2001, letter to the SABIS Educational Systems.

''In fact, (Cincinnati Education Management) has made it clear to the Board that, because of the terms of the agreement, the Board is not entitled to ask (Cincinnati Education Management) for even minimal cooperation.''

None of those involved in the suit could be reached for comment Monday and did not return telephone calls today.

The board is and was at a disadvantage in dealing with Cincinnati Education Management, legal documents allege, because it is affiliated with the company that owns the former Taft Elementary School and collects an annual rent of $1 million.

Board members have contacted the IRS about the legalities of that landlord-tenant relationship. They also are asking why they can't get any explanations from the management company about how it is spending the proceeds from a $600,000 promissory note taken out by the school.

The board's termination notice to Cincinnati Education Management started in-fighting among the board, the school and parents that has escalated, the suit notes, to board members fearing for their safety and being told they can't enter the school.

''On various occasions,'' the suit notes, ''the board members were barred from entering the School on official board business by employees of (Cincinnati Education Management) and/or threatened by employees of (Cincinnati Education Management) with forceful expulsion from the school by police, even though board members had a right to be on the premises.''

Because the school is financed primarily by a $3.5 million grant from the Ohio Department of Education, the board sued the school, the Ohio attorney general, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio auditor.

The suit seeks to dissolve the school and asks the state auditor to appoint a receiver to conclude the school's financial operations.

Steve Burgana, executive director of the Ohio Department of Education Office of Community Schools, said he was unaware of the lawsuit. The State Board of Education granted the state charter to SABIS.

''We've tried to promote resolution of the issues'' between the board and management company, ''but we have no authority to step in and take over operation of the school,'' he said. ''Our concern is for the welfare of the students. We have no knowledge of any of the allegations in the lawsuit. We are unaware of any financial problems.''

Tom Mooney, a Cincinnatian and president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said the lawsuit's claims support the group's lawsuit seeking to reform how for-profit charter schools are operated.

''Assuming these allegations are close to being valid, we're seeing the same kind of operation where a private company created its own little board to simply turn over the money. But, this board apparently has some integrity,'' he said. ''It's one more instance of for-profit companies controlling the school for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of kids,'' Mooney said.

A SABIS-managed charter school in Springfield, Mass., came under fire from that state's inspector general in 2000 for charging $950,000 in ''excessive'' management fees and receiving $300,000 for ''undocumented'' corporate support.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Tom Curtis: Special thanks to Dennis Leone and John Lazares, Thanksgiving 2005

November 25, 2005
Hello Dennis,
Thank you so much for your compliment. But really, thank you for being the initial person for taking on the responsibility, for bringing to light the much needed reform at the STRS.
I highly admire your intelligence, strength, fortitude and leadership abilities. You provided each of us in CORE with a reason to remain involved throughout this long, arduous process. You are a mentor to each of us and always will be (unless you start junketing around the world as your predecessors had done). : ) Most certainly a lot has been accomplished, due to your initial efforts and continued involvement.
You are the most deserving of the board seat you were elected to. It is my firm belief, after working in conjunction with you and CORE for the past 2-1/2 years that one by one, each of the other board members will find you to be all of the things I have mentioned within this message. Other board members have possibly characterized you as a trouble maker, without knowing who you truly are. Once each board member begins to work with you to establish rules and guidelines which will best serve the membership, they will soon find out how sincere and truthful your efforts have always been.
Yes, CORE was there to support your efforts and that has been a part of this winning formula for our grass roots effort. But obviously, had you not continued to provide CORE with the necessary leadership, this group of mostly noisy classroom teachers would have given up long ago and gone home, as many others have already done to date.
Dennis, you and John had the insight to be able to acknowledge what needed to be done. The two of you were able to open doors, first in getting into the STRS and locating the necessary documentation needed to bring your concerns to light. You went on to open doors to our legislators, the State Inspector General, the ORSC, the OEC and others. None of the rest of us would have been able to open many of these doors, especially the first one. For that everyone in CORE and I are eternally thankful. What a ride thus far, though it has just begun, hasn't it?
Take care,
Tom Curtis
----- Original Message -----
From: Dennis Leone
To: Tom Curtis
Sent: Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Subject: Happy Thanksgiving

To one who is the core of CORE, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. You certainly deserve it.
Dennis Leone

Article: VA program practical model for Medicare - from Suddenly Senior

From: Frank Kaiser
Sent: Wednesday, November 23, 2005

VA program practical model for Medicare
Miami Herald
Seniors are scratching their heads at this very moment, trying to decipher the new Medicare drug benefit. For many, the program is too complex and too costly. Things shouldn't be so difficult, and needn't be.
What if the federal government were to design a plan that would be easy to understand and easy on the wallet?
They might, in fact, design one very similar to the one already operating at a well-known federal institution: the Veterans Administration Health Care System.
Just like it has led in other areas -- computerized medical records and patient safety -- the VA is far ahead of the private sector in designing and administering a plan for prescription drugs for their patients.
How does the program work? The answer is: very simply.
Any veteran who is eligible to receive medical care in the national VA system is eligible to receive prescriptions. And patients don't need to drive to a VA pharmacy to have them dispensed. They can be refilled over the phone and sent in the mail.

Control of costs
How much does all this cost? For 100-percent, service-connected veterans and for those who qualify on the basis of income, the medications are free. Nonservice-connected veterans must pay only $7 per monthly prescription.
And what about the crucial objective of controlling costs? The U.S. government can use its considerable buying power to negotiate the best prices from drug companies. As the nation's largest health care system, the VA negotiates some of the lowest drug prices in the country. The new Medicare plan prohibits any such negotiation, and its estimated costs are rising.
A patient or physician should be rightly concerned about which drugs are covered under a prospective drug plan. Many of the patients cared for in the VA system, just like Medicare patients, are older and have multiple medical problems. To treat them properly, the list of available drugs must be complete. Though the VA does not offer every drug on the market, it does include a good selection, one that is determined by a committee on which physicians and pharmacists are well represented. As a VA physician, I may not be able to prescribe any drug I want, but I can prescribe every drug I need.
And if a drug on that VA list isn't effectively treating a patient's blood pressure or cholesterol or pain, a doctor may request another, ''nonformulary'' medication. Such requests are not immediately dismissed, but are given careful consideration. And, in my decade-long experience as a VA doctor, all medically reasonable requests I have made have been granted.
Any system has its flaws, and the VA system is no exception. Filling prescriptions late at night or on the weekend can be difficult. Under those circumstances, using a private pharmacy or going to a VA Emergency Room are the only real options. For patients with limited incomes, those are not optimal alternatives. Formularies are not exactly the same in each VA regional hospital network, so patients who move or travel from one region to another might require that their prescriptions be changed. For those patients who receive some care in the private sector (for example, by a specialist), their prescriptions from that physician need to be rewritten before they can be filled by a VA pharmacy. These flaws are not fatal, but currently require patience and flexibility, and ultimately demand innovative solutions.
As it now stands, the VA program is practical and worthy of envy. It can and should serve as a possible model for reengineering Medicare's beleaguered drug benefit. And perhaps all those seniors might soon stop scratching their heads in frustration.
Robert Kaiser, MD, is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami

Article: Ethics ruling sought on law firms' donations

A Good Question
Question raised about contributions to Petro
November 23, 2005
Sandy Theis
Plain Dealer Bureau Chief
Columbus -- When Betty Montgomery was attorney general, a California lawyer said he and his law partners donated to Montgomery's Ohio campaigns because of her high standards -- not because she awarded the firm millions of dollars in state legal work.

"My expectation is she's going to be somebody who I'm going to align myself with in the future," William Earley, managing partner of the San Diego firm, told The Plain Dealer two years ago. "There aren't that many politicians like Betty who have the quality and standards she has."

Apparently, there is at least one more.

Employees of California's Luce, Forward, Hamilton and Scripps have donated $30,000 to Attorney General Jim Petro, who is running against Montgomery and two others to become next year's Republican nominee for governor. Since Petro became attorney general in 2003, he has awarded the California firm $3.2 million in state legal business.

Petro, Montgomery and Earley all have insisted that there is no correlation between law firms that give and those that receive.

Still, Earley's firm finds itself at the center of a burning legal question: Just how much can outside lawyers give to an attorney general and still be eligible for lucrative, unbid legal contracts, known as "special counsel" work?

Columbus attorney Rick Brunner posed the question to the Ohio Elections Commission on Tuesday when he asked the panel for an advisory opinion.

On its face, Ohio's law seems simple. It states that a firm cannot receive an unbid state contract for more than $500 if an individual from the firm or a spouse, partner, shareholder, administrator, executor or trustee has contributed more than $1,000 over two years to the person awarding the contract.

Brunner's reading of the law: Outside lawyers such as those employed by Luce, Forward cannot give Petro more than $1,000 over two years and still serve as special counsel.

A spokesman for Attorney General Petro disagreed.

The law says no "individual" can give more than $1,000, Petro spokesman Mark Anthony said. It does not say no "law firm," and therefore individual members of the firm can each give $1,000, he said.

"All contributions to the Petro campaign are legal and fully reported," Anthony said. "Since 1974, attorneys general and secretaries of state have said the $1,000 [limit] applies to individuals."

When Democrat Anthony Celebrezze Jr. was attorney general from 1993 to 1991, he agreed with Brunner's reading of the law, said Mike O'Grady, who supervised the claims section for the office.

"The law is real simple," O'Grady said. "You and your spouse can't give more than $1,000."

Phil Richter, executive director of the Elections Commission, said the panel is not required to issue an advisory opinion but probably will.

He said he has not yet read Brunner's filing but did note that the Columbus lawyer and his wife, Jennifer, are considered among Ohio's election law experts.

Jennifer Bruner is seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for secretary of state.

Article: City and county to pay $3.5M (to STRS)

A Hamilton County jury ordered the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County on Wednesday to pay $3.5 million to the State Teachers' Retirement System of Ohio after determining a downtown Cincinnati building owned by the group suffered when Cinergy Field was destroyed.

At the heart of the case filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court last year is the Atrium Two office building and a skywalk to nowhere.

The skywalk had gone from the building at the southwest corner of Fourth and Sycamore streets to the stadium, which gave people in the building access to riverfront parking. But the city and county closed the skywalk in 2000 when planning to destroy Cinergy Field to make way for Great American Ball Park.

"The jury is trying to say the building lost their access ... and that had value," said the plaintiff's attorney C. Francis Barrett.

Barrett said the money would be put back into the building.

"We share responsibility with the county so at least some of the pain is minimized," said Cincinnati City Solicitor J. Rita McNeil. "But, obviously we're disappointed." She said city attorneys would evaluate appeal options.

Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Mark Vollman said he would meet with commissioners next week to discuss the next step.

He did not comment on the award.

Housed in the 30-floor building - the largest office building downtown with 800,000 square feet, 650,000 of it leasable - are Cinergy offices, Cincinnati Bell offices, bankruptcy court and the U.S. Attorney's Office, among others.

Although the case was filed in January 2004, it dates back to the 1970s, when the skywalk was built. In the early 1980s, when David Warner was building Atrium Two, the city and county required him to connect it to the skywalk. Warner sold the building to the teachers system in 1997.

On Oct. 2, 2000, after the last Cincinnati Reds game at Cinergy Field, the city and the county demolished the skywalk, despite objections from building owners. The county and city contended that the building had no right to the skywalk, Barrett said.

In 2001, a Hamilton County Common Pleas judge agreed, but two years later the decision was overturned by the 1st District Court of Appeals, which said the building's owners illegally had their property rights taken away. The Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. As a result, the case was sent back to Common Pleas Court.

The trial began Nov. 9 and concluded Wednesday. It took three hours for the jury to award the $3.5 million compensation.

Article: Public schools boost advertising to compete with charters

Nov. 24, 2005

Associated Press
Competition from charter schools is fueling sharply increased spending by the city's public schools on TV, radio, newspaper and billboard advertising.

Dayton is among U.S. communities with the highest percentage of students attending charters, which has drawn many students away from the city's public schools.

In the past three years, the public schools have spent about $600,000 on advertising. That compares to only about $13,000 a year before charters began popping up after legislators created them in 1998, arguing that competition would help improve education.

School officials say the amount spent is still just a fraction of the more than $200 million in its budget and is a smaller percentage than many colleges, libraries and other education institutions spend.

"It's hardly a splurge," said Jill Moberley, spokeswoman for Dayton Public Schools. "It's really an investment."

Gail Littlejohn, president of the Dayton school board, said she receives advertising in the mail from charter schools nearly every week in the fall.

"It's been forced upon us to compete for students," she said.

Selling the schools has won the approval of the teachers' union.

"There's no other way of showing the community we do want your child in Dayton Public Schools," said Willie Terrell, president of the Dayton Education Association. "We have to do something."

The public schools spent $265,933 on advertising in the 2003-04 school year and $234,162 last year. So far this year, the schools have spent $98,129.

Charter schools are free public schools supported with tax dollars, but run independently of the public school system by private operators.

In Dayton, 22 percent of all children attend the 33 charter schools, all of which opened since 1998. The district's enrollment has plummeted by nearly 30 percent in that time, forcing 16 schools to close.

Now, there are more charter schools than the 28 traditional public schools in the city.

Moberley said the Council of Great City Schools, an organization of the largest urban school systems in the country, recommended the advertising push. The council reviewed Dayton's operations three years ago.

"Looking at Dayton, they saw the advent of charters and saw we were not doing a lot to compete with them at that time," Moberley said.

The legislature, back in 1998, sure didn't do teachers or taxpayers of this state any favors by allowing the birth of charter schools. Now, shamefully so, public schools have to spend tax monies to compete against institutions created, encouraged, and enriched by the State who themselves (the charter schools) feed off of tax monies and see to it that many of their students don't take the proficiency tests. What a vicious circle!

Using this same logic that was used to give birth to charters, it's a wonder that same majority in our legislature didn' t attempt to revise the Ohio Revised Code to allow charter police, fire, and street departments. Private business would love it and campaign contributions would become even more lucrative from those who were given free reign to compete against public agencies with a free pass when it comes to accountability. I can just envision it now, imagine a private police force with a majority of officers who were not forced to take the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy final exam and who were given commissions to enforce the Ohio Revised Code!! Oops, better not speak too loudly, it may give some in the majority of our legislature an idea!

John, a Proud CORE member

RH Jones: The Cincinnati HC/Rx & CompoundedCOLA (CCOLA)

"The best part about their system is that they do not have to go to the legislature to increase the employer contribution!"

From RH Jones

Dr, Fluke related to me that city of Cincinnati, OH has an independent HC/Rx & CCOLA for their retired educators. They have 2-separate HC plans and their CCOLA increases are on the 3% yearly bases. The city pays retiree dental and visual, as well. About 10,000 retirees participate. The best part about their system is that they do not have to go to the legislature to increase the employer contribution! ( Fluke & I question whether or not we who are in the STRS HC really have to.)

Concerning the employer contribution, just prior to the time that Attorney General of OH, Jim Petro, made his "judgment", Damon Asbury phoned Dr. Fluke for details of his and my research into the ORC. We both feel that Jim Petro is on "shaky ground" on this and it should be checked out by a lawyer competent of law in this area. Dr. Fluke feels that ORTA should investigate. Dr. Fluke serves as VP & Legislative Chair of the ORTA local SummitCRTA. Personally, I thought that is the reason I joined and paid dues into both the ORTA & OEA unions to serve this function. These messages are sent to them. Will they follow through, I wonder?

By the way, in yesterday's message, Dr. Fluke informed me that Herb Dyer was from Maryland. I had misquoted him by mentioning Dyer was from South Carolina. Both are CCOLA states. OPERS only has a simple COLA as well as our STRS OH. Perhaps Dyer would have been better off to have stayed in Maryland.

Teresa Fedor: Charter Schools

Ohio Senate Democrats want to solve problems with charter schools

Canton Repository

Nov. 25, 2005

In response to the Nov. 21 editorial “Charter complaints,” I commend the newspaper for mentioning the charter schools conference that was recently held in Columbus. However, the editorial was short on substance. It did not give a full picture of the charter school debate in the state.

It also implied that state lawmakers don’t give “a hoot” about taking a vocal and public stance against the major problems inherent in our charter school system. This could not be further from the truth.

The latest evidence that there are lawmakers who strive to hold charter schools accountable was on Nov. 2. I was one of two leaders in the Senate Democratic Caucus who openly criticized the recently released Thomas B. Fordham study that was highly critical of public schools in Ohio.

As a former teacher and current ranking member of the Senate Education Committee, I religiously maintain that failure is not a choice for our students. In the last year alone, I, along with my fellow Senate Democrats, have put forth several pieces of legislation aimed at cracking down on the massive negligence by our state’s charter school operators.

I’ve called for a moratorium on any new charter schools in Ohio as well as community school startups in the “Big Eight” school districts unless that area is in academic watch or academic emergency, and I have endlessly offered amendments in committees and on the Senate floor putting the brakes on poorly performing schools within the community school system.

So for those who are willing to listen, lawmakers are indeed “hollering to high heaven” about the dismal academic performance our charter schools are delivering for our children.

State Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Article: Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit; another way for the pillmakers to fleece us?

The report then compares those prices with the average prices offered to VA beneficiaries, Canadian consumers and customers at major pharmacies such as Costco or The average Medicare prices were 80% higher than VA prices, 60% higher than Canadian average prices and 3% higher than prices at major U.S. pharmacies. The report states, "The prices offered by the Medicare drug plans are higher than all four benchmarks, in some cases significantly so. This increases costs to seniors and federal taxpayers and makes it doubtful that the complicated design of Medicare Part D provides any tangible benefit to anyone but drug manufacturers and insurers."
Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Will Not Offer Prices as Low as Those Through VA, Canada, Democratic Report Says; Medicare Officials Dispute Findings
[Nov 23, 2005]

The Medicare prescription drug benefit does not offer medications at the lower prices available through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Canadian pharmacies or high-volume U.S. pharmacies, according to a report by the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee, the Washington Post reports.

The report, requested by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), looks at the average prices of 10 popular drugs offered to Medicare beneficiaries through 10 "well-known insurance plans," the Post reports.

The report then compares those prices with the average prices offered to VA beneficiaries, Canadian consumers and customers at major pharmacies such as Costco or The average Medicare prices were 80% higher than VA prices, 60% higher than Canadian average prices and 3% higher than prices at major U.S. pharmacies.

The report states, "The prices offered by the Medicare drug plans are higher than all four benchmarks, in some cases significantly so. This increases costs to seniors and federal taxpayers and makes it doubtful that the complicated design of Medicare Part D provides any tangible benefit to anyone but drug manufacturers and insurers."

According to the Post, the report resulted from a disagreement among some Republicans and Democrats over how to obtain the lowest drug prices. Some Democrats maintained that lower prices would come from allowing the federal government to negotiate prices directly with drug companies, while many Republicans stated that lower prices would come from competition among drug plans.

CMS spokesperson Gary Karr said the report is "selective and misleading" and did not consider prices for generic medications, which generally are less expensive. He added, "The question really is whether this is indeed a true and accurate reflection of the plan choices that somebody would have if they pumped these drugs into the Medicare plan finder"

(Lee, Washington Post, 11/23).

Article: GM cutbacks portend tougher road ahead (Think GM cutbacks won't affect active teachers and retirees? - Think Again)

GM cutbacks portend tougher road ahead

By Mark Trumbull, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Nov 22, 3:00 AM ET

By announcing plans to cut 30,000 workers and close multiple US factories, General Motors Monday sent a warning that ripples beyond the automotive industry: Working-class jobs with generous benefits are slipping away.

In many ways, the current woes of GM and other automakers merely follow a pattern long visible in other old-line industries, from steel to airlines. When overseas or nonunion competition rises, the result is cutbacks in jobs, pay, and benefits.

But this time, the company at issue is General Motors, which for much of the past century epitomized the ability of US industrial prowess to lift assembly workers into middle-class lifestyles. And this time, the larger-than-expected job cuts come even as the larger threat of possible bankruptcy lingers in the background.

The challenge facing GM is competition from Asian carmakers with lower manufacturing costs plus the burden of past promises to fund pensions and healthcare to legions of now-retired workers.

It's a problem many large employers share, and some experts say it may be one they can't solve entirely by themselves.

"No individual company can solve these problems on its own," says Thomas Kochan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Business. "We're just breaking the social contract again."

Last month, GM announced plans to cut medical benefits for current retirees by about $3 billion a year.

In Monday's announcement, CEO Rick Wagoner said the company will close assembly plants in Oklahoma City, Lansing, Mich., Spring Hill, Tenn., Doraville, Ga., and Oshawa, Canada. GM will also close other sites for parts, including an engine plant in Flint, Mich. The goal is to cut costs $7 billion by the end of next year.

These moves at GM come alongside a closely watched battle at Delphi, one of the major makers of auto parts in the US. The company recently filed for bankruptcy, announced plans to lay off two-thirds of its production workforce, and asked employees to take large cuts in wages and benefits. Delphi's workforce, part of the United Auto Workers union, may strike next month.

"It's not that these employers are mean-spirited. They're facing an enormous problem," says Dr. Kochan.

Part of the answer is internal restructuring at companies like GM. But in a new book, Kochan argues that another part must be some national solution to the growing burden of healthcare costs on American employers and families.

The auto industry's challenges have built gradually, but are coming to the fore partly because gasoline prices have dented demand for a GM lineup that emphasizes larger cars, SUVs, and light trucks.

"It seems almost unimaginable" for GM to face such deep trouble, says Gary Burtless, a labor expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. The company has posted steep losses in recent months.

Yet such difficulties are common for industries with generous union contracts. "The main response of American capitalism is that new firms do not offer these benefits," Mr. Burtless says. "And old firms are getting out of providing them."

Flashback: Nov. 28, 2003; Kostyu: Don't forget to give thanks for politicians

By PAUL E. KOSTYU Copley Columbus Bureau chief

COLUMBUS -- Children and adults are often reminded at Thanksgiving that they should be thankful for all sorts of things.

Sure, we’re thankful for family and friends, food on the table and a roof over our heads. Those of us with one are thankful for having a job. Kids should be thankful for good teachers even though the education system in Ohio is in shambles.

We give thanks for those things every year. That’s routine.

But you don’t often hear people giving thanks for politicians, except maybe the lobbyists. But they do that privately, sometimes in the form of a check.

There are so many turkeys laying eggs around the Statehouse, it’s time someone publicly gave thanks for them. How could we not be thankful for the current flock that keeps our state government operating like an out-of-control megafarm? The supply of manure is so plentiful, the Statehouse lawn is always green.

The Statehouse remains upright only because of all the hot air that fills it. If you watch closely, the rotunda sinks a bit when legislators are on recess for an extended period of time. Though there are 12 entrances to the building, only four are used, ostensibly because security can be better maintained. But really it’s because officials thought too much hot air was escaping from the other doors and feared the whole building would collapse.

No, we have a lot to be thankful for in Columbus.

We have a governor who can’t get along with fellow Republicans any better than he gets along with Democrats. Rank-and-file Republicans have pushed his approval ratings so low that he would have a tough time getting elected. They don’t like his broken promise to not raise taxes without their consent. They don’t like his changing requirements for a concealed-weapon law. They didn’t like his Third Frontier high-tech bond proposal. Republican officials are hoping he won’t bring down the ticket in the next statewide election in 2006.

Speaking of that election, we can be thankful that there are three candidates — Betty Montgomery, Jim Petro and J. Kenneth Blackwell — running for the Republican Party nomination for governor. It’s really no fun when everyone knows who the party’s candidate will be. We can be thankful that the three are bickering among themselves and that Blackwell is actually running a referendum to repeal a Legislature-passed sales tax.

Speaking of money, who could not be thankful for state Treasurer Joseph Deters? Here’s a guy who walks into a House committee meeting one day empty-handed and walks out with the power to appoint the executive directors of the state’s five retirement systems. Sweet. (Thank God this one didn't survive!-John)

So what if Deters was linked to a pay-to-play system of campaign contributions from financial institutions when he last ran for treasurer? Imagine the pay-to-play system he or his successor could set up with power over the billions of dollars in the pension portfolios.

Speaking of Deters’ successor, who could not be thankful for House Speaker Larry Householder, who is in the market for a statewide office? He not only wants the treasurer to oversee the pension boards, he also wants to force them to use Ohio financial institutions for a certain percentage of their investment business.

Householder also has an uncanny knack for hiring some of the best legal minds in Ohio. One deputy legal counsel was giving legal advice without being licensed by the state. Another deputy legal counsel was arrested recently for being Columbus’ “naked photographer.” Dressed only in sunglasses, a knit hat and a camera, this guy accosted 40 women over 18 months before getting caught. Back in 2000, one of Householder’s budget analysts was charged with soliciting a prostitute (and then was found guilty of a lesser charge). Who can’t be thankful for that?

Speaking of pension funds, who could not be thankful for Herbert Dyer, former executive director of the State Teachers Retirement System? You’ve got to love a guy who says with a straight face, “It’s the board’s money and they can spend it however they want.”

Apparently members of the STRS board and those on the board of the Police and Fire Pension Fund agreed, based on their spending on travel, staff bonuses, meals and assorted other nice things while the portfolios tanked and health care costs went up.

And speaking of turkeys, shouldn’t we be thankful for our local lawmakers? Pass the gravy.

You can reach Copley Columbus Bureau Chief

Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail:

This page was created November 28, 2003
©2004 The Repository

Charter schools, a study and John Curry's take on it

Article published November 23, 2005
Charters found to have more minorities

Charter schools nationwide serve a larger percentage of minority and low-income students than do traditional public schools, according to a study released yesterday by the University of Washington.
The researchers noted that their findings were partly because charters schools remain a predominantly urban phenomenon. The study also found that a key factor to the success of charter schools is a strong authorizing agency.

The study found that 59 percent of Ohio charter school students are minorities, compared to 50 percent minority enrollment in traditional public schools in communities where charter schools are located.

The leaders of Ohio's two largest charter school sponsors agreed with the findings.

"The one thing we see that most of our students have in common is that the families feel some sense of disenfranchisement from the traditional school systems," said Allison Perz, executive director of the Toledo-based Ohio Council of Community Schools. The agency sponsors 46 schools statewide.

Since the first 15 charter schools opened in Ohio in 1998, the number has grown to 250 statewide, enrolling 65,000 students.

"I agree that the [sponsor], just as district administrators, plays a very pivotal role in charter school success," Ms. Perz said.

Both the Ohio Council of Community Schools and the Lucas County Educational Service Center, which sponsors 103 charter schools statewide, have committed to holding their schools more accountable.

Last month, the service center governing board closed the oldest and largest charter school in Cleveland because of a long list of problems there, including missing taxpayer money and low test scores.

Of the Ohio charter schools that received achievement rankings last year, most were ranked in the bottom two categories of the state's five-tier rating system for academic performance.

Frank Stoy, a regional consultant for the service center, said all charter schools in Ohio will face more scrutiny.

"The most important thing in this study is that one of the driving forces behind charter schools is the parent demand for new options for groups of students who have been less well served," Mr. Stoy said. "People don't start these schools because they are fun - it's market-driven."

My take on this issue:

The first reality concerning charter schools is they are primarily in business to make a profit for their investors and CEO's. Secondly, these schools tend to "pop up" in economically depressed areas where poverty is commonplace. The students and their families in these areas suffer from high crime rates, high unemployment, and a general atmosphere of hopelessness. Many of these students can't or don't survive in the public schools because of poor attendance, poor parenting skills, and run-ins with the juvenile court system. They feel helpless,these students and their families are looking for a "better way of life" - it's very understandable. Sure, there are some success stories by students growing up under these conditions, and I admire them- but there aren't many. The students in the Los Alamos Public Schools in New Mexico have some of the highest test results in the United States- they also have the highest per capita rate of PhD's per 1,000 in this country and a high standard of living. Many of the people living in Ohio's rust belt inner cities where many charter schools are blossoming aren't so fortunate- neither are their test results. However in these same rust belt inner cities, the public schools religiously test all of their students - unlike their neighboring charter schools.

These students are a prime target for a snake oil salesman pitch of individualized attention, a computer at the hands of every student, and excellent grades. What these charter school students, their parents, and the state have discovered is that when it comes time to take the state proficiency tests- many don't. This is no accident, the people in charge know that these students will-for the most part- not be able to produce results equal to or better than their peers is the same neighborhoods who attend public schools. The charter school administrators and their "CEO boards of education" (neither of whom are accountable to the public) know that the only way to save face from public scrutiny is to see to it that a priority is not devoted to standardized testing. Up to now, they weren't forced on the issue.

Thanks to a few courageous investigative reporters from a handful of Ohio newspapers, the public has finally begun to understand what a false bill of goods has been sold to them by a handful of 21st Century carpet-baggers with visions of government dollar signs in their eyes and a good sales pitch . The public is finally beginning to realize that their tax dollars (109 million of them last year) have gone to a corporations that they have little or no control over. It has gotten so bad, that even the ethically challenged governor of this state has had his hand forced to speak out against these abuses of public tax monies. Even some in the legislature are beginning to become vocal about the abuses charters have imposed upon the taxpaying public. Some of these legislators do have a conscience - even though many of them have had their campaign coffers lined handsomely by the CEO's of the very same charter schools they are now suddenly interested in scrutinizing. This situation has degraded to the point where legislative action forcing charters to be more accountable has finally been realized.

Mr Stoy stated that these charters were "started" because they are "market-driven." I say they are started because they are greed-driven and the people who started them have found an easy way to fool the public by side-stepping accountability while lining their wallets at the same time. Of course, and this article doesn't state it, the "sponsor" of the charter school gets 3% of the charter's larder. Methinks the term "carpet bagger" also applies (in this case) to any public school board who participates in profiteering by diverting public monies to private enterprise. This charter school fleecing party is about to end in the State of Ohio - charters will either become accountable or they'll become history.

John, a Proud CORE member

Tom Curtis; an apology to Damon from the LAST person who needs to apologize; and a comment from John Curry

From John Curry

Tom, my take. You don't owe an apology to anyone at STRS who didn't strive to abide by the Ohio Revised Code 3307.15 in their positions of leadership at STRS- not a single one! Some of those people whom I am referring to are still there. Some have been convicted or will be convicted of ethics violations and some continue on to run for governor. You, Thomas, have had the courage to speak out and call a spade a spade. You have identified BS and smoke and mirrors when you observed it and called it to our attention as well as theirs. As far as Damon, well- my jury is still out on that matter. I respect him and I think he respects me (no more, no less). He was put in a difficult position when he took over - I realize that. I also realize that he gets paid handsomely to "shoulder the load." People who hold a position such as his usually display a certain amount of "political slipperyness" from time to time in order to survive. Being vigilant deserves no apology from anybody. Calling 'em like you see 'em deserves no apology. Hang in there, my friend. John

From: Tom Curtis
Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Subject: 112205 Curtis To Asbury; Apology Extended

Hello Damon,

As Thanksgiving approaches and I think of the true meaning of such, I feel I must write you and apologize for my many and continued sinister comments made towards you over the past 2-1/2 years.

I find it so very difficult to not be overly angry about something I hold so dear to my heart, the future well being and financial security of my wife and family. Something I planned for my entire career, based upon promises made to me throughout my career.

When I voiced this concern to you a number of months ago in the boardroom, you asked me who promised me such? I must tell you that comment hurt me and angered me so much I could not respond to you.

I retired in 1998 and had such in hand, only to have it taken away for reasons I still cannot perceive, as those coming from compassionate and caring people. This broken promise is the end result of those people who are, or were placed in a position to help and honor those they represent during their senior years. How does one deal with this and not get upset and angry? Can you provide me with some form of comfort?

In my opinion, the ORC section 3307.15 states that those fiduciaries are to solely and exclusively work for the benefit of all benefit recipients and their beneficiaries in the most efficient manner possible, yet that was not and still is not the case at the STRS.

I really try, obviously with little success, to use those mentors that have worked along side of me to help me see what I need to do. The mentors I am speaking of are those such as the David Speas and Bob Buerkle's, who can speak to you and the board with a calm and even manner. And even though they and their ideas have been turned away time and again, they still continue in their cool and calm demeanor to attempt to bring about change without being overly negative. I pray for patience, my only problem is that I want it right now.

I offer you this apology, hoping you realize that I am thinking about alleviating my anger each and everyday. This whole process seems so overly tedious and long term to begin to correct. I will continue to struggle to put my angry remarks behind me, but that is not easy for me and I am sure countless others.

God bless you, your staff and board during this Thanksgiving week and all year long, those who represent us as our fiduciaries. May you and all of your families have much to be thankful for this Thursday. We live in such a wonderful God given abundant society. I wish to live in no other country than in the USA.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Tom Curtis

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Report: Another retire/rehire in the works in Belpre; a "public service" - at the expense of the system?

Wile said rehiring retired employees, especially a teacher or superintendent, is a public service because it will save the taxpayers money in benefits.

“Because the person is receiving benefits from their retirement plan, the taxpayers will not need to pay for them again,” he said.

Retirement, rehire is possible for Belpre superintendent

Marietta Times

November 22,2005

By Jolene Craig

BELPRE — Belpre residents were invited Monday night to give their opinions about the possible re-employment of school Superintendent Harry Fleming, who might retire this year.

When Fleming was hired Aug. 9, 2004, the school board knew he would be up for retirement this winter and discussed rehiring him after he left the position, board President Mike Wile said in September.

"In favor of continuity in the school system, I think re-employing Dr. Fleming is a good decision," said Tom Webster, an attorney and resident of Belpre. Webster was the only local citizen to address the board on this issue.

Fleming was hired as the district's superintendent after Tim Swarr retired. He will be able to retire later this year with 30 years in the Ohio Teachers’ Association. Under Ohio law, if he retires, Fleming can be re-employed in the same position.

“I think we need consistency with the superintendents,” said board member Rod Hineman. "The school system needs someone to stay more than a couple of years."

Webster, who agreed with Hineman, said he wants Fleming to be rehired because he is helping to keep the school system in good financial standing and the students are doing well.

“This is a decision that Dr. Fleming has to make,” Webster said. “But I think re-employment is in the best interest of the students, school system and parents.”

If he retires and wants to be re-employed, Fleming will be drawing retirement pay and benefits from the state and will still receive a salary from Belpre City School System.

The board decided to discuss the option with Fleming because members wanted a superintendent to stay with the district for more than two years, Hineman said.

Wile said rehiring retired employees, especially a teacher or superintendent, is a public service because it will save the taxpayers money in benefits.

“Because the person is receiving benefits from their retirement plan, the taxpayers will not need to pay for them again,” he said.

“Not only can the decision save money, the taxpayers are getting a person with 30 or more years of experience rather than hiring someone fresh out of college,” Wile said.

During Monday’s school board meeting, members heard from Eric Deems, a Belpre High School junior, who went to Washington, D.C., with the National Youth Leadership Forum on Defense, Intelligence and Diplomacy.

“It was a terrific opportunity where I listened to people in the fields of defense, intelligence and diplomacy speak and I got to meet them,” Deems said.

He was chosen by the program to participate with 350 other students from around the nation in a simulated crisis situation, Fleming said. Deems was chosen as one of 20 students to tour the Pentagon.

“You represented Belpre and Belpre High School in very admirable fashion,” Fleming said.

Flashback - Paul Kostyu: STRS board rips ‘Buy Ohio’ clause in reform bill

Canton Repository
November 22, 2003

Copley Columbus Bureau chief

"In his report to the board, Asbury disputed a recent actuarial study given to the Ohio Retirement Study Council which said Ohio’s public pension funds were at risk because of a growing under-funded liability. The study suggested increasing contributions and reducing benefits.

Asbury said he believes the current contribution rates are “adequate for current pension levels.”

COLUMBUS — Lawmakers were vilified Friday at the monthly meeting of the State Teachers Retirement System board.

They came under attack for two provisions in House Bill 227, a bill to reform the state’s five public pension plans.

One provision would require the pension systems to send a percentage of their portfolio trading to Ohio brokerages and investment managers. The second would put the state treasurer on each board and allow him to hire and fire the executive directors of each system, with the advice and consent of the boards.

Damon F. Asbury, the teachers’ system’s interim executive director, told the board the Buy Ohio provision would “impede the fiduciary responsibility” of the board, “add excessive costs” and be a “serious risk to our tax-free status.”

He called the second provision, initiated by Ohio Treasurer Joseph Deters, “ill-conceived” and “bad organizational theory.” He said it would create an “improper balance of the board.”

Members of the system agreed, but some laid the blame for the legislation with the board.

Mary Beth Hunter, an Alliance teacher and critic of STRS spending, called it “another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” She blamed it on the poor decision-making of the board in the past, which led to the need for more legislative oversight.

“It’s time for you to take action to fix it,” she said.

Paul Boyer, a retired educator from Allen County, said the House bill is “a real disaster.”

A companion bill, Senate Bill 133, is “better, but still needs changes,” he said.
The Senate bill has neither the Buy Ohio nor treasurer’s provision in it.

Boyer and other retirees promised their cooperation with the board and STRS staff to overcome those and other issues in the legislation.

Asbury said he and the directors of the other pension systems were to meet with Gov. Bob Taft on Friday afternoon to make their case about pension reform. Asbury and other directors have said in the past that they back most of the reform.

Earlier this week, all five retirement systems sent a letter to Taft, Senate President Doug White and House Speaker Larry Householder opposing the two provisions in the House bill.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers called on its members this week to oppose the House bill’s provisions, particularly the one that would create a “pension fund czar.”

“The potential for mischief is enormous,” said Tom Mooney, the union’s president.

In his report to the board, Asbury disputed a recent actuarial study given to the Ohio Retirement Study Council which said Ohio’s public pension funds were at risk because of a growing under-funded liability. The study suggested increasing contributions and reducing benefits.

Asbury said he believes the current contribution rates are “adequate for current pension levels.”

He said the under-funded liability will grow in the short term, but decrease long term. “There is no cash-flow problem and there is long-term funding stability,” he said.

He also noted that the State Teachers Retirement System bond rating was renewed at the AAA rate, the highest level. The bond rate for the state of Ohio, on the other hand, is lower — AA+ or AA2 depending on the rating service.

You can reach Copley Columbus Bureau Chief Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail:

News Report: A Prescription For Price Relief

A case in point of a situation where personal greed is balanced with compassion and humanity. John

From: Ryan Holderman
Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Subject: A rare bird!

Dear One & All:

I found this story very interesting. It was also broadcast on last evening's CBS news. This pharmacist seems to be making a decent living while providing his customers with significant savings. That's probably the heart of the story. He's making a DECENT living rather than living the lavish life style of the moguls of Merck, Caremark, etc.!

We need more like him.

Later, Ryan

CBS News

A Prescription For Price Relief

ASHBY, Minn., Nov. 21, 2005

Sharon Martinson was as concerned as anyone about prescription drugs. After all, she's a professional care giver.

But CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports that now that Martinson is 62 and her health has begun to fail, pushing pills became personal.

Her prescriptions came to $800 a month, which she simply couldn't afford.

"I so much as went to the doctor and said 'Is there any thing, any one of these that I can get off of?' and he said 'no,'" Martinson says.

Then, she heard about this tiny pharmacy in the middle of a Minnesota cornfield, where a young pharmacist was offering the same drugs that cost her $800 — for just $200.

His name is Jim Witt. Don't let his quiet demeanor fool you — he's almost single handedly taking on the pharmaceutical industry.

"If my cost for a bottle of pills is, ya know, a dollar," says pharmacist Jim Witt. "Why should I charge $25 for that?"

There's no gimmick. Instead of charging what the drug companies suggest for their generic drugs, he charges about what he pays.

Imagine — drugs near cost.

Witt points to one medicine which costs about $15, as opposed to what a drug company suggests he should charge — $198.

Witt's goal: to try to keep his prices between 35 and 40 percent less than the so-called discount pharmacies.

"Every little helps now days," says customer Harold Larson.

But Witt admits it's a risk. By not charging the mark up on generic drugs, it comes out of Witt's pocket at the end of the day.

"I could be charging more but I wouldn't feel right about it," Witt says.

It started out as just a little home town hospitality, but it's catching on. His corner drug store — the only one in this town of about 500 — is now getting inquiries from all over the country.

He hopes the volume may one day make up for whatever losses he's taking — proof he says that good business doesn't necessarily mean bad medicine.

For Sharon Martinson, it was nothing short of a miracle.

"I was just blessed," Martinson says. "I was just blessed."

A David in a sea of Goliaths, dispensing relief in more ways than one.

Tom Curtis: 112205 Curtis Resp To Asbury Resp; Re SB190 Study

From: Tom Curtis
Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Subject: 112205 Curtis Resp To Asbury Resp; Re SB190 Study

Good Morning Damon,

Thank you for your immediate response.

I am once again chagrined that we will not learn of the results at the December board meeting of a study we have asked about for 2 years, possibly showing a huge detriment to the current and future financial viability of our retirement system.

I have in hand, a document from Buck Consultant Principal and Consulting Actuary Kim Nicholl to your predecessor, Herb Dyer, from May 13, 2003. (This is clearly 3 years after the implementation of SB190 and you were on board). This document was brought to your attention by Leon Knore at our monthly CORE/STRS meetings in late 2003.

In that document, Mr. Dyer raised concern that "the 2.5% accrual for a 35-year teacher was overly generous, which might result in a negative financial impact on the STRS Ohio."

This would indicate to me that Herb Dyer, 3 years after the implementation of SB190 was unsure of its future impact on the system. WOW! Further, this would indicate to me that the board of that time, controlled by 5-OEA past or present executive committee members, provided the underlying impetus, introduction and support for the implementation of SB190 in 1999.

Would you care to offer your opinion on such?

In this same document of May 2003, Kim Nicholl proceeds to validate the reasons they approved such. The method she used for validation, was "a chart that described the pros (+) and cons (-) of the 2.5% accrual form the perspective of the teacher, the employer and the STRS Ohio. This chart points out the positives - the 35-year teacher receives a higher pension are offset by the negatives - the teacher has to work and make member contributions for five more years."

Leon Knore and the members of the CORE/STRS committee took issue with some of the determined pros and cons in this chart, thus feeling that the findings by that method were possibly incorrect. You assured us at that time that the 2.5% accrual for a 35-year teacher was a "wash", end of discussion. Those on the committee and I continued to attempt to address this issue, but you stood strong on your conviction about such.

Did you or any executive staff member sitting in those early CORE/STRS meetings of 2003 have any concern that what we attempted to present to you was of any consequence, thus causing you or anyone else to review the documentation presented by Buck Consultants?

Kim Nicholl goes on to say, "The financial impact of the 2.5% accrual on STRS Ohio is immaterial due to the additional member contributions collected, coupled with STRS Ohio paying pension and health care for five years.

It is my request that the current board is supplied with copies of this document. I ask that they review this document and chart to see if they come to the same conclusions that Buck Consultants did. Those on the CORE/STRS committee did not feel these facts held true. We felt many of the reasons Kim Nicholl cited are misleading and were not true.

In relation to this, I read something in an answer sheet provided by you to the CORE/STRS committee on August 26, 2004. In that document it was stated, "Also attached is the ORSC analysis of Sub. SB190 in which staff recommends that the General Assembly approve the legislation. The analysis indicated that an independent actuarial analysis by Milliman and Robertson concluded that the STRS Board could, at the time, reduce the employer contribution by 2% and still fund the cost of the bill within the statutory 30-year period."

That statement obviously never came true, but would seem to have been one that would have impressed the legislators involved with the passage of this bill. From when I first read these various documents in 2003, I have had grave concerns, as I have indicated to you before. My concern always has been that all of you fiduciaries well knew that not only the statement about reducing the employer contribution did not come true, but many other assumptions at that time did not come true as well. Yet, you and the rest of the executive staff seemed to be of little concern. You simply said that until 5 years of data could be collected and analyzed, no one would know for sure if the 2.5% accrual for a 35-year teacher were detrimental to the system. I could and still cannot believe that was your rather flippant response to the CORE/STRS committee.

Damon, knowing that another month or so will go by before we see the Buck study on the effects of SB190 on the financial status of the STRS is just what I was attempting to convey to you in my last email.

You did not feel my response to you concerning the time line you provided for the discussion of my request for a "grandfathering" provision was appropriate.

In response to your dislike of my comments, offering a projected date of review or consideration of almost anything the membership has requested has been just that. You have usually put us off, as opposed to dealing with the issue in a timely manner. This may really be the issue, that being, your interpretation of a timely manner and that of those now suffering from decisions made by possibly you, the board or whomever has been involved. No matter what, the issue remains, we have been asking for changes that are legitimate requests. We have continually been getting smoke and mirrors, tap dancing or whatever as the response from those that are by all rights our employees. That is not acceptable and should not be the case here. Once again I will remind you, since you did not offer any response to my prior recognition of this fact. We still not have an audit of the STRS as was projected to be done in July of 2003. We still do not have the results of the study of SB190. We still have had no response to our questions about the Buck Consultants report from 2002.

Damon, you and your top-level associates only address or discuss issues from your viewpoint. You have absolutely provided a deaf ear to those of us who have spent an inordinate amount of our own time attempting to be knowledgeable enough to raise questions. You have attempted to minimize our input by telling us things like "that is a good idea, but it won't work here at the STRS. Then, when you actually did implement change we requested, you took the full credit for doing such. Just how self-serving is that!

This is exactly why I said you flippantly make statements to those of us who have attempted to resolve the plethora of poor policies in place at the STRS. You will certainly never be accused of being an advocate of change in line with the true spirit of 3307.15.

Damon, please apprise me of where you feel you have been a strong advocate for the membership, as I fail to find where you have been? You are not part of the solution the membership desires, you are part of the problem and I am sure will continue to be such until the very last day you remain in your position.

Take care,
Tom Curtis
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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