Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jim N. Reed’s speech to the STRS Board, March 9, 2006

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Board Members, Mr. Director and Staff,

My name is Jim N. Reed and for the past half century I have been a prospective, active, retired, and rehired teacher-coach in the Liberty Union-Thurston Schools in Fairfield County.

Today I appear before you to make a few remarks that represent my relationship with my profession’s retirement system.

I currently describe myself as a “Recovering Retiree.” I grew up in education dependent…dependent on the trust, truth, confidence, pride, security and hope I believed my retirement system offered me.

After teaching and coaching 33 years I accepted the information, the guidelines and recommendations offered through STRS counseling and made the life-altering decision to retire in 1998.

My first official response from STRS after completing the retirement forms was that my FAS had been determined unacceptable. I was accused of artificially “padding” my salary when my board of education elevated a 17-year coaching assignment, along with several others, to a new tier. (An appeal reversed the refusal but some damage was done.)

And then within a few months it became obvious my retirement timing had been atrocious. I discovered plans were in the works for a significant benefit formula change of which I had no knowledge. It was condescendingly explained to me that I had “fallen through the cracks” of the transition and should be grateful for the benefits I was to receive.

So I tried to be grateful. It was true that I was to pay less than $500 annually for my wife’s medical insurance. I and the other 5000 retirees in the class of ’98 would at least have the affordable healthcare we were promised. You know the rest of that story.

And as a history teacher it was not a memorable date when the 13th check became history.

2003 brought more revelations about my retirement caretakers. The news was not good.

My trust, truth, confidence, pride, security and hope took another hit. I felt disappointed, disillusioned, disenfranchised, and disgusted. I became angry at and ashamed of my own retirement system. It seemed our profession’s caretakers had become our undertakers.

In an attempt to find redress I began a search for some answers. “Pass the buck” became the most common response I encountered, and when I did receive a semblance of an answer I was given the distinct impression I was the “Lone Ranger.” I was an isolated malcontent.

But remember, I earlier described myself as a “Recovering Retiree.” First of all, I was one of the fortunate ones who, as part of my retirement decision, contracted with my employer to continue teaching on a part-time basis.

Then I became aware that there were many other retirees who shared many of my concerns. They were willing to stand up and be counted, willing to sacrifice time and expense and risk much, including long-established reputations of passivity, compliance, inactivity, and apathy by questioning those who seemed above questioning.

Today I feel my recovery is strengthening due to the renaissance ORC 3307.15 is experiencing. I believe there are Board members who are desirous of returning STRS to its former esteem with the restoration of trust, truth, confidence, security, pride and hope. There are recent fiscal signs that match the rhetoric of reform.

There is much yet to do but encouraging is that the charter foundation principles are being championed again. Lincoln admonished, “A country with no regard for its past will have little worth remembering in the future.” STRS is not exempt from that notion.

Thank you for your audience and thank you for assisting in my recovery. I would ask you to stay with me and hundreds of thousands of other retirees and actives who need your understanding and careful management of our livelihoods. I would like to say more but am reminded of the time constraints and the example of Clemens who once pronounced, when tempted to give someone a piece of his mind, that in his old age he had to be most frugal with what he had left.

Jim N. Reed

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