Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chillicothe and other school boards preparing to buck HB 315, December 29, 2007
5 Questions for 2008: Local School Systems
What changes in education from state and federal mandates may be coming in 2008? School staffing background checks are going to continue to tighten and schools are cross-checking with Education Management Information Systems in different areas as well to ensure they are getting highly qualified teachers. Schools also will be looking at a new measurement on the state report card called value added. The new measurement will show the growth, or lack of growth, a group of students make from one period to the next.
School districts and teachers may take a hit to the wallet as legislators are looking at proposing a bill that would require both to contribute more to the State Teachers' Retirement System (STRS). The reason is rising health insurance costs that could leave the retirement system in dire need of funding for health insurance in a few years if more money is not generated. District boards of education, such as Chillicothe City Schools, already are making resolutions to oppose the proposal.
(Read the rest of the article here.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

STRS involvement in investment scams? (No)

Dennis Leone to John Curry, December 26, 2007
Subject: Fwd: RE: I wonder if STRS invested in any of these scams?
John -- Here is the response (below) that I received from Steve Mitchell regarding the "scam" article you sent me. [See article below.]
Thank you for bringing this stuff to my attention. I think it is important for me to pass these types of questions on to the STRS staff.
Dennis Leone
From Steve Mitchell, December 26, 2007
Subject: RE: I wonder if STRS invested in any of these scams?
I previously had not seen this article; however, I believe the Columbus Dispatch reported over a year ago that this type of scheme was going around the Central Ohio area. STRS Ohio does not have any investments in the companies mentioned in the Akron Beacon Journal article. Also to the best of our knowledge, we do not hold any mortgage-backed bonds or securities that have these types of mortgages in the pools collateralizing our bonds or securities.

From John Curry, December 21, 2007
Pension-fund investment

"Attorney General Marc Dann told reporters that the scheme even touches on some state employee pension funds. He said the state is looking at bringing a civil case on behalf of the funds, which invested in companies that had purchased investment bonds connected to the fraud scheme.

Dann said the indictments and lawsuits will continue across the state, with hundreds being charged or sued in related and unrelated cases."

Charges called the first wave in fraud probe
Akron Beacon Journal, December 21, 2007

17 people, two Akron companies face 147 counts. More action expected across Ohio in investigation of mortgage, securities scams that raked in millions

By Phil Trexler and Rick Armon
Beacon Journal staff writers

It was an extensive two-year investigation into Akron-area mortgage fraud — about 800,000 pages of documents and thousands of manpower hours costing taxpayers millions.

And more is expected.

Read the rest of the article here.......

Special Board meeting 12/27/07 re: litigation

From STRS, December 21, 2007
The State Teachers Retirement Board will convene a special meeting on Thursday, December 27, 2007, at the STRS Ohio offices located at 275 East Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio. The meeting will be called to order at 1 p.m. An executive session is expected under authority of Division (G)(3) of Section 121.22 of the Ohio Revised Code for the purpose of discussing imminent or pending litigation. The Board may address any other matters requiring attention.

Dennis Leone on Meuser memos: 'Try it and see how your superintendent and school board members react'

Dennis Leone to Molly Janczyk, December 26, 2007
Subject: Reaction to Meuser Memos
Molly – I have read and re-read what Mark Meuser sent you. He is an example of a board member with no experience in these areas. He pops off with statements as if he knows what he is talking about, and he clearly does not. This is a flashback to what happened with the likes of Hazel Sidaway, Jack Chapman, Eugene Norris, et al.
1. Meuser wrote: “Even with Mr. Neville’s re-statement, the basic problem with the motion is its attempt to vest the board with the authority to determine whether employees are eligible for legal fees.”
Reply: Well, Mark, I guess you fail to realize that the board absolutely needs to have the authority to determine whether employees are eligible for board-paid legal fees, just like your school board needs to have the authority to determine whether YOU are eligible for board-paid legal fees at Gahanna-Lincoln. It is incredible that you simply don’t understand this. I guess it was okay with you, Mark, that 3 employees determined – for themselves – what law firm would be used to represent them and what the hourly rates would be for their attorneys……with no board involvement whatsoever. What you wrote above, Mark, shows that you are not tuned in to what my motion (re-written by Neville) really says – which is THAT UNLESS REQUIRED BY LAW, STAFF MEMBER LEGAL FEES WILL NOT BE PAID WITHOUT BOARD APPROVAL. This is not an attempt to “vest” anything. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to see the simple logic of this motion.
2. Meuser wrote: “The motion in question is a change in board policy.” No it is not. How can it be a change in board policy when no policy exists in the first place? If passed, it definitely will be a change in the practice of the STRS executive director making such decisions (like severance cash and free health insurance for laid off STRS employees) without a formal vote of the board.
3. Meuser wrote: “According to state statute, this falls under the purview of the Attorney General.” No, Mark, you are dead wrong. The ability of the Board (confirmed by John Patterson of the AG Office) to approve my motion and determine when legal fees should be paid is clear and undeniable. The fact that there may be times that the STRS Board legally has to represent its employees (just like there are times your school board HAS to represent you) does not give employees the right to go out and hire their own law firm when THEY feel they need to be represented. This is such common sense that it is embarrassing for me to write about it.
4. Meuser wrote: “It could occur if the AG were unable to represent the employee due to a conflict of interest, rather than a decision based on the merits of the case.” There you go again, Mark – acting like you know what you are talking about. Mark, when a conflict exists with the AG, he appoints someone else. Case closed.
5. Meuser wrote: “The executive director has the responsibility to protect the system from lawsuits, which is a real possibility if the system refused to pay for representation of an employee who did not act outside his or her duties in a wanton manner. “ What you completely fail to understand, Mark, is that employees do not determine on their own if they are acting outside their duties. The board does. You don’t decide whether there will be monitors on Gahanna-Lincoln’s yellow buses, your school board does. You don’t decide, Mark, whether it is okay to let your students leave school early at the end of the day, your school board does. And just because you may feel like you are not acting “outside your duties in a wanton manner,” you have no right to go out on your own, select a law firm, determine hourly rates for lawyers, then expect your school board to pay for everything after-the-fact. Try it and see how your superintendent and school board members react. The greater possibility of lawsuits in the future, in my mind, will be from retirees who see their pension money being spent with complete disregard to ORC 3307.15.
Given Mark’s decision a few months ago to vote no on my motion to require the STRS Board to review summaries of big ticket contracts before the Board votes on them, I really should not be surprised by his opposition to my motion summarized in No. 1 above. It is this kind of attitude that produced the problems that plagued STRS in years past.
Dennis Leone

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Molly Janczyk re: Motions at STRS

From Molly Janczyk, December 24, 2007
Subject: Motions at STRS
I think when one Board member takes printed words, at times, out of context together with having no experience can really distort their meaning. I have found an outside attorney may not have that specific experience either and I have learned multiple legal opinions are best as different areas of specialty make many legal minds unprepared for a particular concern. This is WHY I went straight to the source: Patterson. I quoted Patterson and copied him for accuracy and he made no corrections knowing this was going out. I took careful notes asking and re-asking and reading what I wrote.
I don't think one individual interpretation should be held out to be more knowledgeable than the AG. At times a Board member sets her/himself up with definitive statements though they have had no real Board experience prior to STRS and then will not back down when found untrue or questionable(very OEA like).
I feel OEA is micromanaging the Board and trying to control it - pretty much the definition of micromanaging. I feel the more legislators hear that cks and balances are in place, the more legislators will feel more likely to trust STRS. I feel we have supported that STRS is under a new day striving for new integrity previously lost.
That new day came with policy changes of Leone and Lazares and ALL know that. For OEA to continue to try to give blanket liberties to one person is to again fall back into old patterns. None of us will do that, and legislators ARE not questioning STRS management to any of our members visiting ALL of them.
One person should never again be given 'carte blanche' authority. To present to legislators that there is a Board working with and authorizing the Exec. Direc. and the Exec. Direc. is acting upon their discretion gives all of us more confidence that all is above board and I think legislators see it that way too.
This is a 'trump card' OEA is using , in my opinion, to control us and keep control of the Board. Better to get off that train cause it doesn't bode well with any of us. Get on one of apparent collaboration by stopping the attempts to control and instead work with membership on common goals. IT IS OEA making a fuss and demanding silence. Any legislator is well seasoned in the type of debate it takes to make new policy and is not naive enough to think that such debate is sign of trouble at STRS but of making a better system which can be trusted.
I assure you debate among legislators is not a 'social tea' setting with all making pleasant conversation and no one ever raising their tone in passionate delivery on their points. To pretend that such Board chat is necessary is beyond comprehension to anyone witnessing politics in today's world. This does not show mistrust but improving and building a renewed system that went terribly wrong in some of its actions and lost trust - plummeting/crashing along with our assets and benefits untenably increasing our costs due to lack of vision and steadfastly finding a source of revenue for HC. Is anyone going to think we are so naive as to think former Board members didn't know HC was soaring being exposed to costs and development of HC budgets each year?
It is only when STRS and OEA resist reform to make a better system of open transparency that alarms go off as to WHY? Perhaps, because some legislators lost trust in OEA due to its blind eye to its OEA controlled Board mismanaging by lack of oversight and abusing their positions. Now, I guess OEA feels that they must control the Board to show any improvement must be due to OEA! Too late.
With repeated attempts to control the Board, questions arise as to what is going on at STRS that needs be keep quiet. If blame is to be found in raising alarm , it goes to OEA's continued mantra for Board members and membership to shut up and not open up all areas for total clarity and transparency.
OEA is making the problem-creating more division instead of sitting down together to find resolutions and doing whatever must be done. It can stop it but sitting down and asking what will it take to resolve this and compromising vs. standing behind a podium issuing monthly very forceful, toned directives to shut out the very Board members who changed old policies for ones creating more transparency and trust. Anything less paints a troubling picture to legislators.
Transparency and motions to bring more into the decision making process are good in our minds. I NEVER again what to see one person interpreting policy and Damon did and acting on his own only to be admonished after the fact and then months wasted on making new policy to ck his liberal takes. After the fact is too late, causes more problems and creates time consuming resolutions to correct.
HB 315 is an area of common ground and I ask legislators to deeply consider all the positions changes to ensure transparency at STRS. The stellar performance of the STRS Investment team has put STRS back into near solvency BUT STRS can never pay for retiree HC with such inflated costs for all. Educators need help and to merely look at STRS figures does not give an accurate view of making up for past losses incurred when the market crashed as well as paying $1.5 million per day for STRS retirees health care.
Molly Janczyk

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"I believe history has taught us the problems of hashing and rehashing the past." ~ Bill Leibensperger (12/16/07)
Thought for the day: "Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it." ~ Robert A. Heinlein
Public Speaks: Apparently it's OK for Patricia Frost-Brooks to speak for 130,000 active teachers who are young and healthy enough to work for bigger salaries than we ever dreamed of earning, but not for one retiree to speak for another retiree who is too sick (and poor) to travel many miles to speak for himself. What is wrong with this picture?

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

John Curry: What the Ohio General Assembly didn't do for STRS retirees and spouses in 2007....please remember & Merry Christmas

From John Curry, December 25, 2007
Subject: What the Ohio General Assembly didn't do for STRS retirees and spouses in 2007....please remember & Merry Christmas

Well, the 2007 (127th) General Assembly closed out this year by meeting for the fewest sessions in a decade. They spun their wheels for many sessions and agreed upon a few significant issues but our voter friendly Ohio House, thanks to the leadership of Jon Husted, just couldn't manage to bring House Bill 315 (additional funding for STRS retirees' healthcare) up for a floor vote, could they? But then, these public servants(?) don't retire with STRS and neither do their spouses. They retire in a system (OPERS) which imposes monthly healthcare premiums of only one tenth the premiums that STRS will charge for a pre-Medicare aged retiree and spouse in 2008. Their ox wasn't gored like ours....was it? The only agenda item on the fast-track for these public servants was their trip back to their home districts so that they could be at the Christmas dinner table to enjoy a little turkey and generous helpings of pork which was supplied by Columbus area lobbyists. Please remember Mr. Husted at the ballot box in 2008 when he runs for the Ohio Senate! Merry Christmas.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Privileged information? Some teachers’ contracts attempt to skirt law

From John Curry, December 23, 2007
Subject: A friend of and for all Ohio educators although....some groups and individuals seem to have forgotten that, haven't they?
"Later, the court used that opinion to rule in Sensel v. Leone that a superintendent who received anonymous letters complaining about a basketball coach was within the bounds of public records laws when he destroyed the letters."
Privileged information? Some teachers’ contracts attempt to skirt law
The Times-Reporter (Dover-New Philadelphia)
By NOAH BLUNDO, T-R Staff Writer
December 22, 2007
Teacher personnel files are public records open to prompt inspection under Ohio law, but provisions in contracts negotiated between some teachers’ unions and school boards in Tuscarawas County give incorrect impressions about access to those records. The T-R reviewed the teachers’ union contracts of the Dover, New Philadelphia, Claymont, Indian Valley, Strasburg, Tuscarawas Valley and Buckeye Career Center school boards after an investigation by the Columbus Dispatch found many districts statewide had contract provisions out of line with Ohio’s public records laws.
Parties negotiating a union contract “cannot nullify the Public Records Act’s guarantee of public access to public records,” according to Ohio Sunshine Laws 2008, the manual state Attorney General Marc Dann’s office publishes, also known as the Yellow Book.
Claymont City Schools’ contract, which expires June 30, was the only one reviewed that has language explicitly blocking public viewing of personnel files.
“Official personnel files are privileged – open to inspection only by the bargaining unit member, treasurer, or members of the administrative staff, central office staff, the board and/or their representatives,” the contract states.
That language was negotiated before the tenure of Claymont Superintendent Ryan Delaney, but he said it’s not something he would abide by anyway. Only information such as Social Security numbers and medical records – for which there are specific exceptions – could be withheld from a request for a district employee’s personnel file, Delaney said.
Ed Henry, president of the Claymont Education Assn., said he had the same understanding of the law as Delaney – that the personnel files are public – and wasn’t sure how that provision got into the contract.
Strasburg-Franklin and Indian Valley Local school districts’ contracts with teachers also contain language that puts conditions on viewing of personnel files.
Strasburg-Franklin’s contract states teachers must be notified immediately of the name of anyone asking to see his files, and the school board must keep a record of who reviewed the file, when and why.
However, public records laws allow anonymous requests with no reason given. Any public office is allowed to ask for name and reason. Upon doing so, they must inform the requester that he isn’t required to answer, according to the Yellow Book.
Indian Valley’s contract forbids the school board from releasing personnel files until the employee has been notified and been given a “reasonable opportunity” to be present when the file is opened.
The Yellow Book states an office must be “prompt” when someone asks to inspect files and must provide copies “in a reasonable period of time.”
Jeff Clark, who works in the attorney general’s office doing public records training, said that while his office does not give specific legal advice, generally Ohio law states a contract provision cannot interfere with the right to prompt inspection.
So, presumably, the “reasonable opportunity” given teachers could not exceed the length of the “reasonable amount of time” in which copies were given, or the “prompt” time frame in which the files must be presented for inspection.
Hollie Reedy, director of legal services for the Ohio School Boards Assn., said that when her office assists districts with collective bargaining, districts usually are advised against including language like the above.
“Districts should not promise to do something for someone that they can’t legally do,” Reedy said.
“You also have to look at how long a provision like that has been around,” Reedy said, because the contract language might have been put in long ago and just never taken out.
Although his district’s teacher contract doesn’t limit viewing of personnel files, Dover Superintendent Bob Hamm also said that sometimes contracts will have provisions that no one understands the reasoning for simply because they were put in so long ago.
A murkier realm of public records deals with anonymous records.
The majority of the contracts the T-R reviewed had provisions against placing anonymous materials such as complaints in a personnel file.
Ohio law defines a record as any item kept by a public office that is stored on a fixed medium; created, received or sent under the jurisdiction of the office; and documents the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the office.
How that definition applies to anonymous notes isn’t set in stone, although the courts have ruled they aren’t records in some cases.
In Beacon Journal Publishing Co. v. Whitmore, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a judge who received letters attempting to sway her sentencing decision in a rape case did not have to release the letters because they weren’t used to influence the sentencing and thus didn’t document an action of the judge’s office. Later, the court used that opinion to rule in Sensel v. Leone that a superintendent who received anonymous letters complaining about a basketball coach was within the bounds of public records laws when he destroyed the letters.
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
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