Friday, February 17, 2006

Lloyd Knudsen's speech to STRS Board February 16, 2006

Good afternoon. My name is Lloyd Knudsen. I was a 30-year teacher in the Woodridge Schools of Summit County. It bothered me to listen to the board's discussion as last month's meeting about how our non-investment staff was so underpaid. The passion some board members exhibited fighting for raises for "their employees" was admirable. But where has the passion been from those same board members in fighting for "their retirees"? Last time I looked the name on this organization was still State TEACHERS RETIREMENT System.
I know what many of you are thinking. It's not quite that simple. We've got to make decisions on all facets of STRS business. Let me share a little story with you from my teaching career. I worked for one superintendent whose motto was: Children First! In other words, every decision he made started with HIS first priority -- the kids. Not what was best for the teachers, even though we thought we made the education happen. But what was best for the kids. So I think it can be that simple. The STRS Board should make every decision based on this motto: Retirees FIRST!
Let me share one last story with you. A friend told me that he has "tithed" to his church for all of his adult life. As most of you know that means he gives 10% of his gross pay to his church. He's done that every month, every year for his entire adult life. I think we'd all agree that is a huge, personal commitment.
But you know what? Every active teacher in the state of Ohio today also tithes 10% of his gross pay. But it doesn't go to a church. It comes right here to STRS! Now that's a huge, personal commitment, also. Ohio now has over 100,000 teaching retirees who have made A VERY SIMILAR FINANCIAL COMMITMENT to STRS throughout their teaching careers. Every day, 185 teaching days a year, and for most teachers over 30 years, their money was sent to STRS. For STRS to safeguard, to invest and later to pay back to them as retirees in a monthly pension and in subsidized health care benefits.
So when this board sits here and agonizes over whether our non-investment staff is paid enough or whether this group of employees may leave us because of some other issue, we as retirees just shake our heads. To us, many members on this board seem more concerned with the needs and wants of the STRS "employee" than the needs and wants of the STRS "retiree" who has entrusted you with his money throughout his teaching career.
As a teacher, I taught with many people who quit or retired. But you know what? After they left -- school went on. When some left -- the educational program did suffer. But when others left -- the program actually got better. Employees come and employees go -- but the organization goes on. STRS is no different. The employee who truly values money above all else, will leave STRS sooner or later, because as the saying goes: "the grass is always greener."
Finally, I never taught in a district with the highest pay. But more important to me and most of my fellow teachers is what we did have -- pride in a school district that served a good community, an appreciation of the kids and parents we had to work with, and a knowledge that we were doing meaningful work -- educating kids.
I hope the employees at STRS can also appreciate all the good things they enjoy as employees of this organization. Thank you for listening. Please remember to think: RETIREES FIRST!
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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