Saturday, February 03, 2007

Jim N. Reed to Tom Johnson: Words of appreciation

Jim N. Reed to Tom Johnson, February 3, 2007
"Mr. Johnson, please accept my sincere gratitude for your decision to "stand up" for continuing reform at STRS by rejecting old-line, status quo positions that "stand down" the hopes of educators to recover the faith, trust, confidence, and pride we once held in our retirement system.
Some 42 years ago (the last nine as a part-time retired rehiree) I began my public school teaching and coaching career. I have been fortunate in that the good folks in my community have not only loyally supported the kids with their tax dollars but they have maintained enough confidence in me to have kept me on board.
Unfortunately, I lost that same valued confidence in my retirement system in 1998 when I retired. You see, as young would-be educators most of us were attracted by "The Promise." The knowledge that we were certainly not headed toward a life of financial independence was counterbalanced by the promise of security for a professional career in education that would conclude with a retirement that we could be proud of and secure in. Our families' future would be affordably secure. (Now, I must warn you that there are those doubters who claim this promise was never given, at least it was not intended to be given.)
How many of us who persevered through some dark education clouds to reach retirement were more than a bit disappointed to discover the promise had been a false foundation on which our careers had been premised. Is there a chance that this broken promise will run off some of the brightest and best of the next generation of prospective educators? If so, what are the ramifications?
Please excuse this personal interjection but I believe it's a rather common story shared by thousands of retirees and I only mean to express to you how important your position as a Board member is.
That is why it is so critical that we have Board members who can actually relate to our real-life condition as retirees or prospective retirees. Your support of STRS reforms offered by Dr. Dennis Leone and Mr. John Lazares are signs of hope for us. We have been discouraged by the past record of what we perceive as negligence and indifference to our concerns demonstrated by some Board members, Staff and Administration. Six-figure salaries and six-figure bonuses are difficult for us to relate to and it seems staying in touch in the other direction is equally difficult.
Mr. Johnson, my fellow CORE colleagues believe you are an independent thinker and, though we may not always agree on each decision made by our STRS caretakers, that you will keep an open mind and appreciate and respect our concerns."
Jim N. Reed

Jim N. Reed: Words of appreciation to Craig Brooks

Jim N. Reed to Craig Brooks, February 3, 2007
Subject: Gratitude for An Independent And Refreshing New Voice at STRS
Mr. Brooks, please accept my acknowledgement and appreciation of your rookie support for some of the reforms recommended by veteran Board members Dr. Dennis Leone and Mr. John Lazares. (As a 20-year high school baseball coach I recognize the importance of the new talent's chemistry blending with that of the lettermen.) To have a free-thinking Board member not automatically line-up, in opposition to proposals from reformers, with the defenders of an indefensible legacy and status quo at STRS is refreshingly welcome.
As retirees, stakeholders, we are so susceptible and vulnerable to the misguided decisions of our Board that it is cause for much consternation. After all, pride in our careers and our families' security is at stake. We have witnessed many of our colleagues' suffering as a result of past errors of omission and commission. We must do what we can to prevent a continuation. Our retirement's success must be measured by what it can do for those retired educators most in need.
Any sign of the breaking of the pattern of rubber-stamping and submission to illiteracy of crucial STRS decisions is a reason for celebration among the ranks of those educators that had given up on regaining trust, confidence, and hope in their retirement system.
To learn of your stance in favor of needed reforms in STRS policy and procedure is a reason for hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is that much closer. The recent retreat, witnessed by some of my CORE friends, seems to have shed some light on your independent voice and they tell me your positive participation is to be applauded.
So done.
Jim N. Reed

Jim N. Reed: Words of appreciation to Tai Hayden

Jim N. Reed to Tai Hayden, February 3, 2007
Subject: Retiree with An Appreciation for An Open Mind And Free Thinker
Dear Ms. Hayden,
Allow me to offer my appreciation for your refreshing free-thinking that came to light at the recent STRS retreat. My primary source for this hope is based on the high marks you received from my CORE friends who participated in the meetings. (Since retiring in 1998 after 33 years of being ignorant (self-taught, unfortunately) of how my retirement system was functioning and dysfunctioning, I have become engaged, along with many other retirees, in a much needed continuing ed course. Unfortunately, the literacy rate among many retirees is not yet passing and the failing rate of actives is atrocious.)
My gratitude is for any Board member who demonstrates the unwillingness to be a rubber stamp for former and current administrative bungling and peer pressure applied by misinformed, misguided, insensitive past and present colleagues.
Obviously, I support and encourage the campaign of Dr. Leone and Mr. Lazares to bring some respect and trust back to my retirement system. As I'm certain you have ascertained in your brief time on the Board, Dennis and John have frequently faced equal amounts of obstinacy and ignorance. Insensitivity to the real-life retiree and an arrogant disconnect have been too long a part of Board policy
As representatives and caretakers of lifetimes of public service and our families' financial security, we are terribly dependent on every decision you make, every one of our dollars you spend. We must be able to expect you and to trust you to treat our security like you would your family's. Too frequently, our expectations and trust have been failed.
That is why I thank you for simply not adding your voice to the status quo, especially when the current conditions at STRS retain some of the stench that many of us have had to live with since the Dyer regime. (My trust is that you and the other new Board members have perused Dr. Leone's award-winning 2003 research of STRS' own shameful records. I'm also certain you have learned of present Board members who have refused to read that same exposé and have, literally, bragged about not needing to know about their own heritage.)
I look forward, Ms. Hayden, to witnessing the continuing Renaissance at STRS and I am quite encouraged and hopeful that you will play a major role.
Thank you.
Jim N. Reed

Flashback -- 'All the members ought to thank God for having Dennis on the board' -- John Lazares

Canton Repository, July 13, 2006
Strife leads STRS board member to resign

COLUMBUS -- A member of the board of the State Teachers Retirement System has resigned, citing the lack of “civility and respect.”

Judith Dunn Fisher, a former chief financial officer for Huntington Bancshares, told Gov. Bob Taft in a letter dated June 30 that she was driven to resign by “the inability and/or unwillingness of the STRS board (and its leadership) to ensure that civility and respect are ... provided for all Board discussion and deliberation.”

Taft appointed the suburban Columbus resident as an investment expert to the board on Sept. 28, 2004, for a four-year term.

Fisher’s letter said one board member was “solely responsible for my resignation — verbally castigating, impugning and maligning Board actions, behaving ... in an emotionally abusive manner on repeated occasions.”

The letter does not identify the person, and Fisher repeatedly refused to do so in an interview.

But Constance K. Ramser, a teacher at Jackson Local Schools and new chair of the STRS board, said Fisher is referring to Dennis Leone, a former superintendent who represents retirees. Three years ago, Leone was largely responsible for disclosing problems about how the board and system were operating. He was elected last year.

“Dr. Leone tends to be a bit explosive at times,” Ramser said. “As a result, there have been instances within the board room and personal instances many of us have experienced, where he’s personally crossed the line. If he was a student in my classroom, he would have probably been suspended. Basic civility you learn as a child. At some point, an adult has to act like an adult.”

“That’s unbelievable,” Leone said.

Leone called Fisher’s letter “a hit-and-run” attack. She’s not being driven off. If she can’t handle it, then she shouldn’t be on the board.”

Leone said he intends to write Taft about what qualities are needed in Fisher’s replacement.

Leone defended his behavior, saying he is looking out for the interests of STRS members by improving pension-fund policies. He said the board often has rejected his efforts. He acknowledged, however, that STRS, which has a $65.1 billion portfolio and 439,000 members, operates better today than three years ago.

Mark L. Rickel, Taft’s press secretary, said the letter was the first time the governor had heard about Fisher’s problems. Taft will choose a replacement as soon as possible, Rickel said.

Board member John Lazares, who often backs Leone’s efforts, called Fisher’s and Ramser’s description “ridiculous.”

“All the members ought to thank God for having Dennis on the board. He’s trying to protect and defend the active and retired members.”

Lazares said Leone “is emotional, and (Fisher) doesn’t like him.” He drew a difference between her experience with private boards and Leone’s experience with public boards. “We’re dealing with public dollars,” he said.

Though Fisher criticized leadership of the board for not controlling Leone’s behavior, Ramser said efforts were made to do so but that they were unsuccessful. “How much parenting (of Leone) should I do as an adult?” she said.

Leone said he was “disappointed in Connie” for her description of his behavior and that no one has asked him to change.

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

Mr. T. throws his hat into the ring

From Duane Tron, February 2, 2007
Subject: Presidential Exploratory Committee

Dear All,
Please send this to all of your friends across America and we'll see how many write-in votes I can receive in 2008. I want to start an actual grassroots campaign and see if we can shake up the political extablishment who will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to try and fuel their super and overblown egoes! I am starting this as a joke but let's see how far we can go with it and how much support we can get. I know that I can do just as good a job as any of the career politicians who spend their lives messing up ours! I am really serious about this. If I get elected you'll all get front row seats at my inauguration! We'll use e-mail to run my campaign and I won't take out a single political ad, nor spend a dime of my money, or anyone else's money! What a novel idea? Please send this to everyone in your e-mail address book and ask them to send it to everyone they know, and on and on! Thank You!
Please write to Greta Van Sustern at and ask her to announce my candidacy!
Duane Ernest Tron
Candidate for President 2008
(Don't you dare laugh at my middle name either!)
Subject: Presidential Exploratory Committee
Greta Van Sustern
On The Record at Fox News
Dear Greta,
I have decided to form my own Exploratory Committee to decide whether to run for President in 2008. I figure if every other egomaniac in the country wants to run for the most thankless, underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated job on earth, I should dust off my ego and jump in with all of the rest. Nobody has heard of me as I am just a lowly retired public school educator. When I look at the arrogant, self-serving, egotistical, pompous, conceited, and overblown windbags who have declared their candidacies, I decided that if they are qualified then I am equal to the challenge! Please share my name and ambition with viewers so I can get my name out in front of America and make a grassroots run against them. America truly deserves better than the career politicians who haven't been able to get anything right in all of their years of pretend public service.
Thank You,
Duane E. Tron, Unknown Candidate
St. Paris, Ohio

Kathie Bracy: My take on the retreat

Kathie Bracy to John Curry, February 2, 2007
Subject: My take on the retreat
John --
By now you've seen Mary Ellen's report on Day One of this week's Board retreat. (I just got home; I see she's sent a report now on Day Two, which I haven't opened yet.) I wish you could have been there -- you would have been so proud of Dennis. With the new people on board (Johnson, Brooks & Hayden), he is generating some strong support from people who have their eyes wide open, who have a LOT of COMMON SENSE, and, in the case of Johnson & Brooks, who have "been there," as far as background and experience go, and have a very good sense of how things are SUPPOSED to be done.
These are the kinds of people I meet every spring when I attend the annual OFIC (Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges) Evening of Excellence -- college presidents and CEOs from all over the state. I come away from those events stunned by the contrast between the kind of board they have and the kind we have, wondering why we can't have at least a FEW people like that on the STRS board!! Having two superintendents with darned good minds was a start; having people the caliber of Johnson and Brooks is a gift from heaven; and Tai, with her quick perception, common sense and willingness to speak up in opposition to the policy of speakers being held to three minutes if there are only a few signed up, and saying she didn't like what happened at the last Board meeting -- John, we're FINALLY getting a Board that has BRAINS and COMMON SENSE!!!!!
This is what we should have had from the very beginning. I worry about the others (Ramser, Meuser, Cervantes and Chapman). They may mean well and their hearts may be in the right place, but, John, they just don't get it. They were trained to be teachers; no more, no less. I have no doubt they all are good ones (use past tense in Chapman's case, since he's retired). At least with Hayden, she LISTENS and uses good judgement. What's the answer? I think there needs to be a crash course for teacher members of the Board, with some kind of continuing education, even if nothing more that sitting in on other board meetings where there are no educators, just to see how things SHOULD be run. They may have a lot of expertise in the classroom, but that's no background for managing millions of dollars of retirees' funds. The contrast between the "teacher members" (the ones I mentioned above) and the Leone-Lazares-Brooks-Johnson-Hayden contingent is glaring. Background and mindset -- that's what it boils down to. It needs to change.
As for Puckett -- well, if he has any brains and know-how on how to be an effective board member, he has yet to show it. Even on his best behavior, he is totally inept!! He talks once in a while, but has yet to contribute anything of value -- why do we have to put up with that? Here again, Zelman is an educator -- maybe he's the best she has to offer, which certainly doesn't speak well for her!! I think we need to start pressuring her some more to find somebody else. Puckett doesn't cut it.
Something else that shows Craig Brooks is on the right track. That silly IFS report suggested that the Board should consider re-instituting the bonuses for non-investment staff!!! Brooks, perhaps not knowing the full history, said he did not object to some employees getting a 6% base raise, and others getting 0%, if it balanced out to not more than 3%. He may be unaware what the word "bonus" has meant at STRS, historically. Dennis told him he really appreciated his response because it's exactly the way he feels. An employee getting a higher base raise for merit purposes is a whole different story from those getting a separate bonus merely for reporting to work.
I think Dennis was pretty happy when he could see several times that both Johnson and Brooks were supporting where he was coming from on his twenty or so travel policy recommendations, the three minute rule, and contingency planning. Such a refreshing change!! Brooks is a very smart man, a very nice man, and takes his job VERY seriously on that Board. Real class; exactly what we NEED. By the way, Damon has even agreed to put the Board policy changes on travel in effect for staff -- such as requiring itemized meal receipts, which is the ONLY way one can prove if alcohol really was or was not purchased.
That Aristotle Hutras was something. I don't think he prepared his remarks at all; he seemed to be speaking off the cuff and making jokes. I think he spends a lot of time at the Statehouse -- must be part of his job with the ORSC. He shared a little history -- I guess STRS came into being even before Social Security (I looked it up -- STRS was created in 1919 by the state legislature; Social Security was started in 1935). Anyway, he was saying how wonderful this was, not expecting Dennis to ask him given his understanding, if HE would step up and speak with both Wachtmann and Schneider about the potential evil of Blasdel's HB 700 in relation to the very existence of our pension system; also Dennis' question about why STRS should pay ORSC a set amount if STRS has a budgetary downturn as we did in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Dennis' point was that if STRS has less, ORSC should get less. Naturally, Hutras wasn't crazy about that point of view; after all it's HIS salary.
Remember when Conni Ramser denied to Dennis in Board meeting last month that she had ever been to Lindey's? Well, Gary Hollow asked Dennis yesterday if he had found a copy of the receipt proving otherwise, so Dennis produced it. It was signed by Debbie Scott on 12/10/04 and had Ramser's name on it as joining her. I didn't see it, but I understand it was itemized, showing no alcohol purchases; nevertheless, Ramser was indeed there. What's with her? You don't forget a place like Lindey's! I wonder how Gary H. will handle this. I bet he'll just say she simply forgot. Uh, yeah, right.
Anyway, Hutras did point out one thing. When he gushed about the big conference the pension systems had on Monday and Tuesday of this week (six STRS Board members were there -- Ramser, Hayden, Cervantes, Meuser, Chapman, and Brooks), he said in response to the attending Board members who were saying how much they appreciated the information at the conference, "See, you don't have to go to Florida to find a good meeting; you can attend one right here in Columbus!" -- something Dennis has been pounding away at for MONTHS (actually, four years)!! So GOOD to have SOMEBODY ELSE saying it!! Which reminds me -- we have Tom Johnson to thank for convincing the staff of the notion of having one day Board meetings instead of two. I totally agree. After all, this is not a social club, and these businessmen are taking time out from their jobs to be there (besides not being compensated for it). If they just pare down their agenda, omit all the self-serving garbage, prepare everyone in advance, then they can go right down the list, boom, boom, boom, and get the job done. As it is, they waste much too much time. If they can't cover their agenda in one day, then something's wrong. Heck, they could probably do a lot of it in HALF a day if they had to.
Dennis met with some resistance yesterday when the subject came up of a contingency plan in the event of a possible catastrophe. I was really proud of him for standing his ground and not backing down on that one. When he said something about if we do have a catastrophe in the future, he didn't want to have to say "I wish we had done such-and-such back then." I could just see the wheels turning in the heads of the "teacher members." He was finally getting through to them. A contingency plan won't be easy to put together, and it will come at a price. I suspect the staff doesn't want to touch it.
All in all, I was really proud of the leadership coming from Dennis' corner (I was happy to see Johnson & Brooks flanking him, though I'd have moved Puckett's chair someplace else; maybe the next floor). If the others asked even half the intelligent questions and contributed even half of what these guys do, the synergy on that Board would be mind-boggling. We could be very proud of that whole group!! Time will tell; we just need to continue to push to get the right people on the board and we won't have to worry about all the petty stuff that's kept them so dysfunctional in recent years. Heck, we might some day have a system we can actually be PROUD of again.
We all owe Dennis and John a HUGE debt of gratitude. They've been pounding away against incredible resistance for a long time. The tide is FINALLY turning. We don't DARE abandon them, though; there is still MUCH to be done. We must continue to be vigilant and supportive. We dare not go away, automatically assuming everything's going to be OK. That's what got this pension system into trouble in the first place -- WE weren't minding the shop!!!

Mary Ellen Angeletti's report on the STRS Board Retreat: Day Two

From Mary Ellen Angeletti, February 2, 2007
Thursday, February, 1, 2007
The second day of the STRS Retreat began at 9:30 a.m. with the introduction of Kim Nicholl, consulting actuary of Buck Consultants, who explained the actuarial principles and assumptions of the STRS pension plan. This presentation was very long and detailed.

Assumptions for STRS are redone every five years. Dr. Leone asked if it was wise to wait this long between reviews since there were so many questions about the figures used for payroll growth. There are shortfalls on payroll growth NOW. Since the five year review is due next year (2008), it was deemed appropriate by Buck Consultants to wait. The five year assumption review next year will:
1. Compare assumptions made about retirements in the past (actual) versus what actually happened (expected)
2. Update mortality info.
3. Study retirement patterns & determine trends - make judgments about the future
4. Study payroll growth which will probably change next year.
They will ask if this change can be sustained in the future. This trend would affect the funding period by lengthening it. An actuarial valuation was explained as a snapshot of the actuarial position of a pension plan at a given point in time. Like a movie, each frame is a snapshot of the present. The snapshots are of assets, liabilities and net gains or losses.
Actuaries deal with payment of money in the future that is contingent upon occurrence of future events such as salary increases, retirement, disability, and death. They also deal with risk management and the probability of future events. Assumptions are important because when and why a member leaves active service drives the amount of benefit paid. Assumptions are established by the Board based on the recommendations of the actuary.
Assumptions are long term and best estimates. Interest rates, salary increases, payroll growth and inflation all play a part in setting economic assumptions. There is a financial impact of assumption changes. Thus, if the salary scale decreases, liabilities go down. If mortality rates improve, liabilities grow. If withdrawals increase, liabilities will decline. I thought it was interesting that Kim said our STRS system compared to PERS has a better funded plan due to the fact that our turnover rate is so low and their turnover rate is high.
Smoothing was explained as investment gains and losses recognized over a specified time period, typically three to five years. STRS uses four years. Systems smooth assets to dampen volatility of market value and to stabilize employer contribution rates. In other words, by using smoothing, one does not recognize losses & gains right away. All 5 pension systems in Ohio use smoothing. CAlpers uses a 15 year smoothing period. General Motors has gone from a 5 year to 2 years and is getting out of pensions completely because they can't afford the volatility. The STRS rate of return as of July 1, 2006 was 13.5% and 11.9% in July 1, 2005. To date, it is 12%. THIS IS A GREAT MARKET VALUE OF ASSETS!
The funded ratio is the actuarial value of assets divided by the accrued liability. As of July 1, 2006, STRS had a funded ratio of 76.1%. The unfunded accrued liability is the excess of the accrued liability over the assets. As of July 1, 2006, STRS has unfunded accrued liability of $19.4 billion dollars. The funded ratio and the unfunded liability both represent the funding progress of the plan.
At the present time, it will take STRS 47 years to pay off the unfunded accrued liability. An actuarial experience gain or loss results whenever the actuarial assumptions do not accurately predict member behavior. STRS recognized an experience loss on the retirement and separation assumptions in each of the past three valuations. Preliminary analysis suggests that members with 30+ years of service are retiring at different rates than the current assumptions predict. This pattern may be generating actuarial losses.
Buck will review this info. in their review next year. Buck's projection of our funding period is that as of July 1, 2006, the system has a market value of pension assets of $62.1 billion and an actuarial asset value of $57.8 billion. The $4.3 billion difference between these figures represents investment gains that have not yet been recognized. If the market value of assets returns exactly 8% annually in the current fiscal year and beyond, the system will recognize $4.3 billion in gains in the coming three years.
The defined benefit plan still attracts 80% of new entrants with only 10% electing the defined contribution plan. Regarding payroll growth, in each of the past three years, it has fallen short of the 4.5% per year assumption. Payroll growth EXCEEDED 4.5% for each of the 5 years preceding the most recent three years. Buck Consultants does NOT recommend lowering the 4.5% per year assumption at the present time.
If the teaching force declines, it will have the biggest impact on the unfunded liability. The history of STRS health care program and its funding goals was reviewed. It was explained that there are two ways to look at the health care funding issue:
1. Full reserve actuarial funding (how much is needed to fully fund health care for current and future retirees )
2. Fund solvency period (how many years will the health care fund last). Due to GASB (Government Accounting Standards Board) 43, STRS will have to disclose full reserve contribution effective with the July 1st, 2006 fiscal year.
The meeting continued through a working lunch with a discussion of the Public Speaks policy. Tai Hayden said that the 3 minute rule is degrading for a member who drives a long distance when there are only a couple of speakers signed up. Dr. Leone also spoke to this concern asking for flexibility of time limits when so few speakers were signed up. However after much discussion, it was decided that in the interest of time constraints the three minute limit for speeches would be maintained but that flexibility would be permitted. Dr. Asbury will try to signal the speaker when one minute remains. It was mentioned by Board members that the distribution of hard copies of the speeches is especially appreciated.
Contingency Planning was next on the agenda, led by Executive Director, Damon Asbury, Steve Mitchell, Director of Investments, and John Osborn, Consultant with Russell Investment Group. Dr. Asbury began with a discussion of the results of a Contingency Plan Survey completed by the STRS Board members. The survey (which was not passed out to visitors) apparently included triggering events, the impact on STRS benefits, changes to asset allocations, operational factors to consider in the event of a terrorist attack, a worldwide epidemic, high inflation, a net loss or some other disaster.
Some of the changes which the Bd. members felt should be part of contingency planning were:
1. Only offering services essential to the pension fund
2. Eliminating all out-of-state travel
3. Freezing salaries
4. Bd. approval of any new hires
5. Grandfathering cuts
6. Dropping health care
7. Changing the age for eligibility for health care
8. Reducing the 35 year benefit.
It was generally agreed in the discussion that the impact on pension benefits would be the last result. Dr. Leone wanted to know how to avoid another $12 billion drop. Mr. Osborn then said that in 1987, the market declined 25% in two days. He said the only way to avoid risks is to put funds into bonds which have low earning power. The only way to address market downturns is diversification he said.
Mr. Mitchell then began his portion of the Contingency Planning presentation with a series of case studies. The first case study showed that the market decline was NOT the result of 9/11. The economy was actually declining prior to 9/11 and the U.S. economic recovery started in the 4th quarter of 2001, the quarter AFTER 9/11. The stock market peaked in March 2000 and had already declined 29% by 9/11. The market value of STRS investment assets was approximately $49 billion on 9/11. The assets declined to $47.5 billion on 06/30/02 and remained essentially the same at $47.3 billion on 06/30/03. (We did have a 12 billion dollar loss though)
Another case study showed that positioning the assets of STRS for a potential negative event can be very costly. Alan Greenspan indicated in late 1996 that the stock market exhibited "irrational exuberance". STRS assets were only $37.9 billion at the time. The stock market continued to rise for the next 3 and a half years. STRS assets increased to $57.5 billion (06/30/00) before declining. In the quarter starting just 19 days after 9/11, the return on STRS total fund was an outstanding +7.7%. In addition, the next quarter (March 2002) also had a positive return of +1.3%.
More than two years ago, when STRS assets were $50 billion, several members urged STRS to eliminate all equities due to potential worldwide turmoil, a potential second terrorist attack, and a rising stock market. Had STRS done so, assets today would be $55 billion, not the actual $72 billion STRS achieved. Dr.Buser was concerned about the high stock market in the spring of 2005. The stock market has risen
+24% since then.
Still another case study showed that STRS' diversified assets provide the best long-term contingency plan for difficult short-term periods. While the stock market suffered a substantial decline of more than 50%, STRS loss was much less:
...RETURNS ........S&P 500...STRS TOTAL FUND
...FISCAL 2001.... -14.8%......- 6.3%
...FISCAL 2002.....-18.0%......- 8.1%
...FISCAL 2003.....+ 0.3%......+ 2.3%
The ten year annual compounded return from fiscal 1997 to fiscal 2006 for the STRS total fund is +8.3% per year. This includes the difficult three year period of fiscal 2001 to fiscal 2003 when the 3 year annual compounded return was -4.2% per year. If the STRS total fund had been invested (during this same time) in long term FIXED, the return would have been +5 and one half % instead of +8.3%.
Mr. Osborn of the Russell Group then discussed risk management elements and the importance of diversification, active management, tactical asset allocation, and time horizon (long-term focus allows system to weather short-term events & medium-term cycles). He mentioned that after dropping $5 billion, STRS then dropped another $9 billion. He said if we had shifted to bonds after the $5 billion drop, STRS would have had less of a drop. BUT in history, the same shift of funds to bonds would have produced even more of a drop. Historically the stock market has come back.
Dr. Leone was critical of the past STRS Executive Director, Herb Dyer, who actually hired 144 more employees for STRS at the time of this drop. Dr. Asbury countered that Dr. Dyer had also let a large number of employees go at this time too.
Craig Rider, the Facilitator, asked "What didn't STRS do that they could have done?" to which Mr. Osborn replied that if we have declines like Enron again, STRS should/would reassess asset allocation immediately. He said that it was an investment fact that any market trigger will be unreliable and that unfortunately this is a fact of life in investing. He said that alternative risk reducing strategies such as conservative asset allocation (less equities) and hedging strategies using options or other derivative strategies are okay over the short term but they are costly over the long term. Using them would immediately worsen returns.
Dr. Puckett said that he has lived through this down period in STRS' history but suggested that we need to explain to our membership that Board members are not just sitting on their hands. Communication with membership should be improved during down periods he said.
Dr. Leone said that we must have a procedure in place in the event that STRS has a heavy loss of returns. Mr. Rider suggested that perhaps STRS could develop a set of actions or procedures to follow in order to review all investments. Dr. Leone asked, "At what point will the pension system be threatened?" He said the STRS Board members should begin now to look at equity factors which may affect the pension solvency on down the road. Chair, Conni Ramser, agreed with Dr. Leone. This plan will be pursued.
Marla Bump, STRS Government Relations, then introduced Aristotle Hutras, Director of the Ohio Retirement Study Council, who spoke informally to the STRS Board members & visitors regarding a review of the political landscape of Ohio and across the country. He reviewed that the ORSC was formed in1968 by the Ohio legislature for the purpose of providing information about the five pension plans and measure them. The council includes 3 Ohio House members, 3 Ohio Senate members and 3 appointed members, and is funded by a percentage of all five retirement systems.
Hutras has worked as Director for the past 17 years. He reminded us that STRS predates Social Security and had the foresight to offer the defined benefit plan. In reviewing the current status in the Statehouse, he said that Blasdel's 700 bill will probably be reworked. He mentioned that GASB 43 (mentioned at the end of the first paragraph above) will put angles on pension funds and that health care liabilities will be huge. He suspects that an attempt will be made to get rid of the defined benefit plan. Senate President Harris allowed the ORSC to do a study on this.
Dr. Leone asked Mr. Hutras if he has explained to Representative Wachtmann that bill 700 would threaten our STRS pension. Hutras expressed concern that language from bill 700 might go into bill 272. The 700 bill has to be introduced first. However, he is optimistic. He says that the legislature will follow the path of least resistance, so he doesn't see any problems. If things do go bad for pensions, it will become Hutras and the ORSC's problem.
Mary Ann Cervantes asked if he suspected resistance to our STRS legislation for health care. She asked what STRS could do. He said to keep doing what we are already doing. He did say that Wachtmann said the legislation was dead on arrival so Hutras said it will be difficult. If the legislation is passed, then SERS will want an increase for health care too. PERS' rate is going up to 13.35%.
He talked about how term limits has hindered rather than helped at the Statehouse. Camaraderie and trust used to be much better among legislators than it is now. They used to have evening meetings and work out problems. He predicts that the current term limits of 8 years will NOT be changed to 12. He also predicts that mandatory Social Security is not on the radar now for teachers. However he did say that the push to eliminate the GPO-WEP just causes renewal of consideration of mandatory Social Security.
Craig Rider, the Retreat Facilitator, had nothing additional to offer so the Retreat was adjourned around 3:30 p.m.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Mary Ellen Angeletti's report on the two day STRS Board Retreat: Day One

From Mary Ellen Angeletti, February 1, 2007
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
The Retreat began at 9 a.m. with opening comments by the Chair, Conni Ramser, and the Vice Chair, Jeff Chapman, who then introduced the Retreat Facilitator, Craig Rider, who was also the Facilitator for last year's STRS Retreat. Mr. Rider led the Board members through the results of the STRS Board's self-evaluation.
Of the eight Board members, one member did not return a self-evaluation so the results were based on evaluations returned by seven of the members. Four areas were covered in the evaluation: guiding principles, governing style, delegation to the Executive Director, and Board job description. The average of responses to all four areas was -.3 lower than last year's evaluation. Last year's average was 3.6, and this year's average was 3.3. This indicates a split between members who regard goals as being met and members who regard goals as NOT being met.
Some interesting comments which occurred as the self-evaluation results were discussed were: In a discussion of the importance of being proactive, Dr. Leone expressed that he desires to bring up issues to discuss with the Bd. members, and he has been denied opportunities in the past. He has been told that to question contracts, etc. is a waste of time, and he has been told to shut up. Proactive means to prepare for growth and change which is what Dr. Leone has attempted to do. He reminded the Facilitator that when he suggested scrutinizing vendor contracts, the Bd. members voted it down 8 to 2. The Bd. eventually corrected this mistake.
Dr. Leone was asked how the Bd. might encourage better discussion. Conni Ramser said she feels that advance notice of issues to be discussed would help so that she could prepare for discussion. The Facilitator reminded the Bd. members that they must respect each other. Someone said that the Board is undermined if one Board member speaks out against another. Dennis said, "But what do we do when the Board is wrong on issues? An Executive Director and seven Board members have been convicted in the past. For example, the Board majority wanted to go to Broadway shows. Their behavior was wrong."
Ms. Ramser said that issues need to be clear. She said, "We need to ask ourselves what are the pros for making decisions and what are the cons." Facilitator said, "We should focus on the matter and issue at hand." Mark Meuser felt that voices need not be raised to share opinions. He reminded the Bd. that lawmakers are watching the STRS Bd. He said that tempers should not be raised. Dr. Leone said, "The legislature would frown more on stupid decisions made by the STRS Board members than they would if voices are raised."
Then Dr. Leone reminded Ms. Ramser she had pledged to show respect and work together. Dr. Leone then referred to Ms. Ramser's remarks to the Canton Repository last July in which she was quoted as saying that Dr. Leone was the cause of Judith Fisher's departure from the Bd., that Dr. Leone needed parenting, and that she would have suspended him from her school class. Ms. Ramser refuted the newspaper statement explaining that when she talked to Paul Kostyu, she thought that Ms. Fisher had already named Dr. Leone as the reason for her departure. She said that the other remarks were taken out of context during the phone conversation.
Dr. Leone asked why she had not requested a correction or retraction from the Canton Repository newspaper. Dr. Leone said that he was affected more than any other Board member as he represents the retired teachers who are hurting because of the cost of health care premiums & the increase in Medicare premiums. Dr. Leone said, "We serve membership and must listen to them." He said he hears from membership more than the other members.
Conni Ramser reminded them that the most recent member survey indicated that membership was pleased. Mark Meuser agreed that pleasure was highest for retirees but said that fewer were pleased with spending and how STRS handles their money. Dr. Leone said that the survey reflects satisfaction with member services at STRS. . . not actions of the STRS Board members.
Someone stated that the survey indicated that "recipients have forgiven the system of past transgressions." Someone said that this was wrong. . .that it was the opinion of the person who conducted the survey, Mr. Saperstein. Laura Ecklar said that "based on the survey results, recipients have forgiven but not forgotten past transgressions."
The goals of the survey of the STRS Board were identified as health care and the solvency of the pension fund. Jeff Chapman said, "We (the Bd.) are accountable. We have fiduciary responsibilities." He asked, "How effective is the STRS performance?"
A discusssion of the broad authority of the Executive Director over the Board followed. Tom Johnson said, "Oversight of the Executive Director and his staff are a big part of the STRS Bd. member's responsibility." Dr. Leone then said, "It is not a good idea then for the Executive Director to allow a Board member to have a fax machine at a Bd. member's house." Mary Ann Cervantes then said, "Is there a designated person at STRS who is responsible?" Dr. Asbury said that ultimately he is responsible. He said Bd. members can ask the STRS attorney and ask the staff.
Dr. Leone then asked, "What about the Board policy that permits things like $60.00 dinners. This is not wise. What about a policy which permits Bd. members to charge long distance phone calls to STRS? This is not wise." Dr. Leone then said that he had a motion to present that says that the pension system does not pay for Bd.entertainment. The facilitator said that Dr. Leone must sell this idea to the Bd. members.
A review of the IFS Fiduciary Performance Audit recommendations followed presented by Dr. Asbury and members of the STRS staff. The audit was explained as evaluating management issues by identifying strengths and weaknesses and recommending enhancements. Steve Mitchell, the Chief Financial Officer for STRS Investments, discussed the investment related recommendations of the audit. Of the 45 investment recommendations in the IFS Audit, STRS investment staff disagrees with only seven:
1. The audit recommended that STRS delineate roles in their investment policy statement even though they are in the Fund Governance statement. STRS maintains that the investment policy statement & the fund governance statement are used in tandem

2. The audit recommended that STRS consider a different international benchmark. STRS feels that IFS misunderstood country weights in the benchmarks & the recommendation would significantly underweight emerging markets in the proposed benchmark versus STRS Ohio's policy target.

3. The audit recommended that STRS consider a different alternative benchmark. The Board's consultant thoroughly analyzed this issue several years ago & embraced STRS Ohio's three-pronged approach.

4. The audit recommended that STRS examine transaction costs (trading costs) of external managers. STRS did this several years ago; no problems; cost to do again is $35,000 - $40,000.

5. The audit recommended that in searches for external managers that STRS delete policy requirement that at least one Ohio firm is in the group of finalists. STRS is attempting to fulfill the requirement of SB 133 & overall legislative intent.

6. The audit recommended that STRS should monitor lobbyist requirement and should review registrant filings. STRS already requires that all respondents are familiar with the registration requirement. All 5 funds decided that monitoring is not the systems' responsibility. (Bd. member, Tom Johnson, suggested having lobbyists sign off on the required monitoring.)

7. The audit recommended that STRS should consider rebalancing target weights of stocks. STRS felt that this would not be wise.
The IFS audit indicated to the ORSC that only five of the 45 investment recommendations are KEY. STRS staff agrees on all five KEY investment recommendations:
1. An asset allocation study every three years.
2. External consultants must disclose business relationships.
3. Include additional risk statistics in the next asset allocation study.
4. Articulate criteria in broker evaluation for selecting women/minority/Ohio brokers.
5. Expand manager selection policy & include it in the investment policy statement.
Mr. Osborn, of the Russell Company, was in attendance and shared his response to the audit as "a positive report containing some fine tuning suggestions." Board member, Craig Brooks, suggested that more investment education should be an ongoing policy for Board members. Mr. Mitchell added that the Russell Company would be conducting some educational components in the near future but Mr. Brooks said that "It must be ongoing."
Following the lunch break, Board and staff members were asked to share their impressions on their attendance at the Ohio Forum on Retirement which apparently occurred on Monday and Tuesday of this week in Columbus at the Hilton Inn at Easton. This event received very favorable comments from all of the attendees.
Bd. member, Craig Brooks mentioned the responsibilities of the Bd. members as trustees. He said that some good advice which came out of the Forum was that "If you question something, you probably should not do it." He said the Forum reminded Bd. members to challenge management and to review outside money managers as well as insist on board member education.
Bd. member, Jeff Chapman said the Forum reminded him that Bd. members are responsible for investments and monitoring those investments, that Bd. members must be sure that there is a process in place to handle losses of investments (due diligence).
Bd. member, Mary Ann Cervantes especially appreciated the presentation by David Freel of the Ohio Ethics Commission who reminded Bd. members to look at who is trying to influence whom. She said that the STRS legal team must be on top of policing to avoid past repetitions of fraud.
Mr. Mitchell felt that new investment strategies (such as hedge funds, gold) were well-explained BUT were not guaranteed risks. Bob Slater, in charge of STRS accounting, felt that the Forum was very well put together.
Bd. member, Mark Meuser felt that the conference was outstanding, even though some of the info. was "over his head" but praised the emphasis on the fiduciary responsibility of Bd. members. He especially liked the emphasis of Bd. members' "undivided loyalty to their pension membership." At this point, Dr. Leone responded, "So that's what he said, huh? Hmmmm. . . That's what I have said for the past three years."
Sandy Knoesel, Member Benefits, shared that she learned new things from other Executive Directors who attended and also appreciated Representative Wachtmann's explanation of the ORSC oversight.
Executive Director, Damon Asbury felt the Forum was well done and included a good blend of vendors, Board members, and Executive Directors. He especially liked the analysis of fiduciary responsibility (Fla. speaker) and the Kent State speaker who emphasized attention to payroll growth & economically challenged investments.
The STRS staff member who sat in for Terri Bierdeman (who did not attend due to the death of her father) appreciated Representative Wachtmann's underscoring the importance of the ORSC and said it was good for the vendors to hear this.
Laura Ecklar, director of STRS communication services, led Bd. members through a review and discussion of Board Policy changes which mainly had to do with Board member travel and expenses. She referred members to the comparison of reimbursements offered by other pension systems as well as state and federal agencies. The changes which were discussed today will be brought back to the Board at the February Bd. meeting for final approval. Highlights of the discussion today were:
1. A Board member who is a formally invited participant or designated speaker at an event sponsored by an organization with which the Retirement System is affiliated for the purpose of exchanging information pertaining specifically to the system shall be reimbursed for incurred expenses. Bd. members will only be reimbursed for expenses associated with such an event if documentation is provided by the organization inviting the Bd. member that stipulates the Bd. member was an invited participant or a designated speaker at said meeting. This documentation must be attached to the travel expense form. Reimbursement by third parties is restricted by Ohio law.
2. Board members are permitted to attend 3 out-of-state meetings (including all costs) per year as long as said meetings do not have a total cost to STRS in excess of $5,000. Expenses must be pre-approved by the Bd. at a Bd. meeting. Exceptions to this policy can be brought to the Bd. for consideration to allow.
3. Overnight lodging on the day after a conference ends will not be reimbursed, absent adverse weather-related conditions and/or cancellation of the Bd. member's airline flight.
4. Board members will not be reimbursed for overnight lodging in Cols. after Bd. meetings, absent adverse weather-related conditions and/or a mechanical breakdown of said member's motor vehicle. Bd. members will be reimbursed if they are conducting Bd. business or are a formally invited participant or speaker at a meeting the following day & the cost of the lodging does not exceed applicable mileage reimbursement.
5. Bd. members may be reimbursed for actual & reasonable meal expenses up to a maximum rate of $50.00 per day per person. Bd. members may be reimbursed for actual meal expenses as follows: not to exceed $10.00 for breakfast, $15.00 for lunch, and $25.00 for dinner.
6. Airfare will be purchased at least 30 days in advance & at the lowest price coach class available. Bd. members who choose not to secure airline reservations at least 30 days in advance will be required to pay the difference in cost between the two tickets.
7. STRS will not pay any additional fees charged by airline companies when ticket reservations are changed by Bd. members due to personal reasons -- before or after conferences.
8. Airfare for Bd. members to return for emergency Board meetings and/or extraordinary situations will be paid by STRS. 9. Reimbursement will not be made for personal purchases, alcoholic beverages, valet services (except use of valet parking when reasonable self-park facilities are not available), laundry & dry cleaning, personal grooming, entertainment, and long-distance telephone calls that are not connected to STRS business.
9. STRS funds will not be utilized to purchase credit cards for Bd. members & Bd. members will not be issued credit cards by STRS.
10. All eligible expenses exceeding $15.00 must be documented with an itemized receipt to be reimbursed.
11. Exceptions to the policy and limits herein established will require a majority vote of the Retirement Board present & voting.
In regards to policy changes which have to do with limitation of the Executive Director, Ms. Ecklar will rewrite section G. which addresses restrictions of administrative operating expenditures without a formal vote of the Bd. The Bd. members did okay the requirement that they be provided with a contract summary sheet if a potential agreement meets one of the following provisions:
1. The contract exceeds $100,000
2. The contract is for goods or services provided directly to the Board.
The last policy change discussed pertained to the position description of STRS Bd. members' compensation. It now includes "STRS will not pay for or provide computers, home Internet connections, home telephones, cell phones, or fax lines or fax machines for Board members. Bd. members will be permitted to check out STRS laptop computers immediately prior to the first day of business associated with a Bd. meeting or an approved conference. Said laptop computer is to be used only for STRS related business and not for personal use. IN SHORT, DR. LEONE, ALONG WITH SUPPORT FROM TOM JOHNSON, CRAIG BROOKS, AND TAI HAYDEN, WAS SUCCESSFUL IN GETTING MAJORITY BOARD SUPPORT FOR MOST OF THE PROPOSALS HE HAS PUSHED FOR MONTHS!!!!
Greg Taylor of the STRS IT Department reported on Board computing options but in the end, it was decided that there would be no cost savings by having the Board members switch from monthly paper binders to laptops.
Andy Marfurt, STRS Human Resources (I think) then led an explanation of the STRS request for a 3% salary structure. He presented supporting information and explained salary structure as a best practice tool used in compensation programs. It provides a hierarchy of positions from lowest to highest. He recommended that it be updated each year as it assists in recruiting top talent and also allows associates to excel in a position without hitting the top of the salary grade as quickly. He said that it was a myth that updating the salary structure results in pay increases. Updating is not a COLA or step increase. He recommended that it be effective Jan. 1, 2007. Jeff Chapman moved, seconded by Craig Brooks to approve the annual adjustment of the STRS Ohio salary structure reflecting a 3% increase over the previous salary structure with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2007. It passed unanimously.
Retreat Facilitator, Craig Rider, then summarized the day's discussions. The Retreat adjourned to Executive Session at 4:45 p.m.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Feb. 16 STRS Board meeting to be one day only

Conni Ramser, Board Chair, announced at the conclusion of the Board retreat today that the next Board meeting will be a one day event on Friday, February 16, 2007. KBB

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Updated contact information for top state officials

Note from Molly Janczyk, June 19, 2007
Governor Strickland: email
The address I circulated is correct. However, it bounces back when the inbox gets too full which is a common issue. Also, the Governor does not have lots of opportunity to do email.

From Molly Janczyk, January 31, 2007
Subject: Added Treasurer: State Officials: email and phone
I called for their contact info. Phone numbers and addresses remain the same. New email addresses.

Governor Ted Strickland
Vern Riffe Center
77 S. High St.
30th floor
Columbus, OH 43215-6117

Attorney General Marc Dann
Rhodes Tower
30 East Broad St.
17th floor.
Columbus, OH 43215-3428

Auditor of State Mary Taylor
88 E. Broad St.
Columbus, OH 43216-1140

State Treasurer Richard Cordray
Rhodes Tower
30 E. Broad St.
Columbus, OH 43215

From Molly: Update on John Lazares

From Molly Janczyk, January 31, 2007
Subject: John Lazares Date:
Tricia Lazares, John's wife, just called after the Dr. called her. John has a staph infection in his knee. It is 'tight to the region and non aggressive and coagulant negative' which I think/hope interprets to not in his blood infection. She will ask to make sure on Mon. when he goes in to the Dr. as well as how 'coagulant negative and another term relate. She was intent on hearing what he said and didn't get all questions in.
The Dr. said this kind of infection is very painful and is why John has suffered so much. His bone was damaged and the Dr. felt rt. away that it was such an infection but needed to let the cultures grow to confirm. He thinks the antibiotic plates in John's knee will treat this and if all goes well, the replacement surgery will be in 4-6 wks. I 'assume' this means the bone will heal once the infection is gone. Also, this means John did not have a rejection, it seems, from replacement materials.
The PT specialist came just as we finished and is helping John move about till his surgery with the spacer in his knee.
More news after his office visit Mon.

Paul to Damon re: Time limits and Board chairman

From Paul Boyer, January 31, 2007
Subject: speech

Dear Damon:

I have read Tom Curtis's letter to you about the speech time limits and your reply. I, too, am very much concerned about the time limits but more so with the chairman of the board butting in at inappropriate times with very inappropriate actions. I will discuss that later in more detail. I also appreciated your response to his concerns. I know it is easy to get distracted when acting as a time keeper and one has to keep an eye on the watch and an ear on the speaker.

Now, the current chairman of the board is an absolute disaster for the board. I have written several letters to her, telling her that we are keeping a careful watch on her. It seems to me that the only reason she went onto the board was for the power trip she has made it out to be. This is not the first time that she has made stupid remarks or actions. Does she not realize that she is amenable to us, the members of STRS? Thankfully, SB 133 makes provision for actions against any board member who does not follow the rules.

If I catch her doing anything at any time that could be actionable for wrongdoing, I will be one of the first to seek action against her. If she continues to serve this way we can not let her serve out her term.


Paul L. Boyer

Tom to Damon: When are we all going to row in the same direction?

From Tom Curtis, January 30, 2007
Subject: 013007 Curtis Resp To Asbury, Re Public Speaks Timing
Thank you Damon for your quick response.
I do understand and appreciate your position on this point. Might I suggest that when there are only a few speakers that the time constraint is extended? Obviously, there needs to be a limit, but what Connie Ramser did to Dr. Kay Fluke is ridiculous!
This kind of thing looks bad for all concerned, but she is oblivious to this fact. This is simply one more example of why I have always been concerned that she would become a board member, let alone the chairman. She is so lacking in common sense and financial knowledge. She is all about power and self-importance. She will not sit down and discuss difficult issues with her stakeholders. She runs from every difficult situation. Does this sound familiar? She apparently believes because she comes to the meeting so well read and prepared that she can handle the position. That is a false premise in my opinion.
As I stated in my last presentation, why isn't the STRS management more concerned about the level of background and knowledge needed to become a board member? A regular classroom teacher, whom has no experiences outside of academia and none in business or finance, has zero real qualifications for sitting on that board. Let's get real here. The job is beyond them!
Damon, you would not hire these people to do the work that people trained in those areas are hired to do, yet this type of person is elected to a board position they are incapable of understanding without many years of training. Is that what you are hoping for? If not, then let us make some changes to this process. It is outdated.
Let us not forget those that attend the board meetings and desire to speak to the board are the stakeholders. We are sincerely concerned and we feel ignored. Many people have told you this, many times, yet nothing changes. None of us are there to simply cause problems. I looked forward to my retirement and not having to work, because I always have lived within my means. I have the skills to maintain my property and do not need to hire others to perform the daily processes needed to live in my environment. I don't need the kind of income all of you greedy people need. How much is enough for your type, Damon?
Those of us that come to speak to the board are all educated people and sincere about attempting to improve the situation as we see it. As you well know, I do not see a rosy picture for the future of the STRS, considering what I have learned during the past four years. I wish you and others of your management staff could convince us that you truly know what appropriate action is needed to keep the STRS liquid for those following behind us. We are not convinced and you and your staff are not convincing. You have taught us how to treat you, due to your failure to provide the benefits we were all told we would have after retirement. I could go on, but you have heard it all before and are unable to bring about the necessary changes that have plagued our retirement system for the past 2 decades. Now you expect the legislature to bail you out. What will happen if that is not successful?
In the STRS newsletter of 1992 when Herb Dyer was named the new executive director, it states that a dedicated flow of income is needed for the HCSF. You are still using that term today. We provided that dedicated flow and what do we have to show for it? The STRS staff has not found that dedicated flow, but has continually improved their income level year after year and you have a huge staff. Has there ever been a year where the staff did not get raises of one type or another? I would doubt it, but please correct me if I am wrong. What do the stakeholders get in return for providing so well for the staff? That's right, we get the shaft! Where is the equality in this picture? It fails me to understand your attitude, other then greed.
Damon, I am a technologist. I am always looking for ways to improve processes and procedures when they fail to serve the intended purpose. Retirees have continued to lose ground concerning his/her benefits every year since the start of this decade.
When are we all going to row in the same direction, or does that only happen in a perfect world? The STRS has supposedly hired the best. You have the largest staff of all five of the retirement systems, yet we are in last place concerning our benefits. Further, there was no grandfathering. I will ask you again, as I have before, when are you and your staff going to put the stakeholder first and not yourselves and your own greed? The STRS system as it exists now is not fair and is partial to greedy people.
Thomas Curtis

Damon to Tom re: Three minute time limit

From Damon Asbury, January 30, 2007
Subject: RE: 013007 Curtis To Asbury, Public Speaks Timing
I’ll take your criticism to heart and try to be consistent. By way of explanation, if it is of interest, it is oftentimes apparent that the speaker will wrap up his or her comments at or near the 3 minute remark so I don’t interrupt them with a warning or remark that the 3 minutes allocation has been used. In other instances, when the speaker has exceeded the 3 minutes and is approaching 4, I will note that the time is up. I do try to be equitable, regardless of the tone of the comments, that is to say whether positive or negative. Of course, there are those occasional cases when I do get caught up in the speaker’s comments and forget to monitor the time constraints. I’ll try to do a better job in this regard.
I will let the Board know of your opinion about the inadequacy of the three-minute time limit.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tom Curtis to Damon Asbury: More time needed for Public Speaks

From Tom Curtis, January 30, 2007
Subject: 013007 Curtis To Asbury, Public Speaks Timing
Hello Damon,
You are the designated timekeeper for the public speaks portion of the monthly board meetings, allowing only 3-minutes per speaker. You have failed to do the job adequately or fairly in some instances and this is really inappropriate.
Now, I realize it would be difficult to both listen to what the speaker is saying and keep track of the time allowed, which is only part of my concern with this whole issue. However, Connie Ramser does not fail to ask he/she to sit down and made a big spectacle of such this month with Dr. Fluke, as you are well aware, but then she is a whole other issue.
Damon, you have failed on numerous occasions to provide the speaker with the one-minute warning, but only told he/she that their time was up. When you did that to me in November, I assumed you had indicated that I had one minute left, when I did not. The board chair, Connie Ramser was very happy to ask me to sit down before I had finished my presentation. What that resulted in, was that you came under fire twice from just one presentation, because I finished that presentation in January and your name was addressed in both parts of my presentation. I realize you take little offense to such, but this inconsistency is not acceptable and is very wrong on your part.
Further, you have permitted others to go beyond his/her 3 minutes, probably because you were caught up in what they had to say. I have no belief that you have failed to give the appropriate one-minute warning, or failed to stop someone at the 3-minute time on purpose. I would believe you would allow the speaker to finish, as you have done in the past.
You only indicated the 3-minute time when I spoke in November and did the same to Dr. Kay Fluke in January. This resulted in Ms. Ramser banging her gavel several times and loudly letting Dr. Fluke know that he was "out-of-order". I sure hope that the board minutes reflect such a display of disrespect for your stakeholders by Ms. Ramser.
A public speaker is only permitted three minutes to say what is on his/her mind. First of all, as you well know, I believe that little amount of time to be ridiculous and should be addressed at the retreat this week. Consequently, I will also ask that you bring this topic to the floor if Ms. Ramser does not. More time should be allowed given there are not 15 speakers. Many of us drive over two hours to come to the board meeting to be heard and are only allowed 3 minutes to do so. What is wrong with this picture? I already know the answer to that. The stakeholder is not welcome to bring negative comments to the board and neither you nor few on the board address those comments when made.
I have requested a change in this policy, both by email to the chair, Connie Ramser and during my 3 minute public address in January. I will hope to find this issue has been addressed this week and a response will be forthcoming.
Thank you,
Thomas Curtis
STRS Retiree

Update on John Lazares

From Molly Janczyk, January 30, 2007
John Lazares: update
John is home waiting for news from his biopsy and cultures. The Dr. is to read the reports tomorrow as he is not in office today or tomorrow am. due to surgeries. Trish will call me if there is news from the report as to whether this is or was infection and when John's replacement surgery may occur. Strengthening his bone is somewhere in there.
He is more and less comfortable during the day depending on movement and time for pain meds. He is mostly in bed and moving only when he has to do so. Not time for phone calls to him yet. John is by nature a multitask personality and no doubt will initiate phone calls when he feels good enough. For now, he is just resting and what the report states will probably predict how soon he feels good enough.
Trish has been giving him messages from those leaving them and John was very touched upon hearing that Dave Speas' congregation prayed for John by name Sunday. I have relayed others who have emailed me with messages of prayer, concern, and hope for relief for him.
Molly J.

State Lobbying Becomes Billion-Dollar Business At least a dozen states revise laws in 2006

By Sarah Laskow
Centre for Public Integrity, December 20, 2006

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2006 — State lobbyists and the companies that hire them spent a record of more than $1 billion in 2005 to influence state lawmakers and officials, the Center for Public Integrity has found.
The almost 7,400 legislators in the 50 state capitals across the country passed close to 40,000 laws last year, according to figures from the State Net Web site. Those lawmakers also allocated an estimated $1.3 trillion in taxpayer money, according to The Fiscal Survey of States for 2005 released jointly by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Directors.
And working in the hallways of the nation's 50 statehouses was a corps of close to 40,000 registered lobbyists paid to advance the agendas of almost 50,000 companies and organizations, the Center found. Nationwide, that averages out to more than five lobbyists for each lawmaker.

Monday, January 29, 2007

From Marc Dann's website: Ohio Rx retail prices

From John Curry, January 29, 2007
Subject: Ohio Rx retail prices
Attorney General Marc Dann's site has this comparison for retail drug prices on some popular Rx's in some Ohio pharmacies. You might find it interesting to compare prices. John
Click here

A Repository reader on rehires: Usually it’s administrators, not teachers, who have salaries of $90,000-plus

Canton Repository, January 29, 2007
Letter to the Editor

The headline of a Dec. 28 Associated Press story from Columbus piqued my interest. It read: “Retired teachers rehired at high salary, collect pension as well.” When I read the article, I realized how terribly misleading the headline was.

“The greatest increase has come,” the article asserted, “among educators who have been rehired at jobs paying more than $90,000 a year while also collecting a retirement pension.” Teachers?

As of 2005-06, only two districts in Ohio paid teachers the maximum salary, based on longevity and degrees, of $90,000 or more. However, many district-level and building-level administrators in our state do command such salaries. All too often, they are then retired and rehired by local boards at full salary in addition to a full pension.

The recent action taken by the State Teachers’ Retirement System board to require local boards to pay health benefits for those whom they retire, then rehire, as of 2009, is a step in the right direction, though it constitutes nothing more than a simple act of cost-shifting. Meanwhile, brain drain continues in our state at an alarming rate in the field of education, with countless college-educated Ohioans being lured to the southern and western parts of the country with teaching jobs.

As long as the “shortage of administrators” myth is perpetuated by those who stand to gain the most from it, teachers licensed and qualified to become building administrators, and building administrators licensed and qualified to become district administrators, will have minimal opportunities for advancement.

For the qualified and licensed graduates of our colleges and universities with teaching degrees, a career in another state will, in many cases, be their only option. Perhaps our most recent “education governor” could address this problem as a way to keep highly educated Ohioans in Ohio. I’m not holding my breath.


RH Jones: Springfield kindergartners raising school funds door-to-door

From RH Jones, January 29, 2007
Subject: Kindergarten children begging door-to-door to save school

To all:
What has our Ohio come to when kindergartners and their teachers have to beg for proper funding by going door-to-door to homes and businesses with their hats in their hands? Has school funding dropped such a low level that kids have to "trick or treat" for support? In Springfield, Ohio they are selling their candy and other goodies door-to-door in order to keep their kindergarten school open. Their school district has lost so many levies that it is being forced into such drastic measures to try to raise funds to save their kindergarten school.
In avoiding its responsibility (rotten to this CORE) over the past dozen years or so, Ohio has cut funding for public school districts so much that it is now time to paste it where it belongs at a level of necessary support where logical and reasonable people should expect it to be. Is this asking too much from our political leaders, I wonder?
RHJones, (CORE) Concerned Ohio Retired Educator for life
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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