Friday, January 16, 2009

Chiding the Board and the Executive Director: Lloyd Knudsen's speech to the STRS Board, January 16, 2009

Hello, my name is Lloyd Knudsen. I was a 30-year teacher in the Woodridge Local Schools of Summit County. I was unable to attend the December Board meetings when the topic of our STRS staff being given the Friday after Thanksgiving off was briefly discussed. I have a few comments I would like to share about that topic.
It is my understanding that the STRS staff has ten paid holidays in their labor contract and that the Friday after Thanksgiving is NOT one of them. It is also my understanding that our Executive Director, Mr. Nehf sent each Board member a letter in September informing them that he was considering giving the staff that day off as an extra paid day. Then in October, he sent another letter to each Board member saying HE had indeed decided to give the staff that day off. I feel pretty confident past Board meeting minutes will show no formal Board approval of this decision. It was purely Mr. Nehf's personal decision.
Now, whether you feel the staff getting an extra paid day off is a big deal or not--there are several very troubling issues about this whole scenario.
One, we have our Executive Director knowingly violating the labor contract between STRS and its employees; and two, we have our Executive Director knowingly making a decision that violates established written Board policy. Page 53 of the Board Policy Manual expressly prohibits the Executive Director from: (a) changing his own compensation or benefits without Board approval, and (b) awarding employees salaries or benefits that are not part of a Board-approved plan.
I recently read in the ORTA Quarterly that Mr. Nehf had addressed the ORTA Board in November. Now mind you, November was the same month he was about to give the STRS staff their extra paid day off. Mr. Nehf was answering questions from ORTA officers about the PBI investment program. I think you'll find his answers quite interesting. Quoting from the article on page 4, "He (Mr. Nehf) pointed out that only investment staff earned PBIs, and that they were part of a NEGOTIATED CONTRACT. Mr. Nehf said he was not going to BREAK A CONTRACT, but indicated that the PBIs will be part of negotiations again next year."
Mr. Nehf's explanation to ORTA about PBIs should have been the same explanation given to the STRS staff. He should have said--I will not break a negotiated contract and the topic of an extra paid day off can be negotiated in the future. And, I'll see all of you at work on the day after Thanksgiving!
I personally believe our Executive Director, Mr. Nehf is a good and honest man who brings a wealth of pension fund experience to STRS. I just happen to believe in this instance he has made a business decision that is just wrong.
It was also interesting to note that Mr. Nehf mentioned the name of former Executive Director, Herb Dyer in his reasoning for giving the staff the extra paid day off, saying both Herb Dyer and Damon Asbury had often approved it. Now, that is the same Herb Dyer that essentially told retirees when they came to complain at STRS Board meetings, to go home and let him run STRS. Obviously the names and faces of the STRS management have changed since those days, but sadly it seems, the same Herb Dyer (it's OUR money to spend) attitude still exists here.
To me the most troubling aspect of this whole scenario is this Board's response to it. Other than Dr. Leone, no other Board member objected to Mr. Nehf's "considered" plan. Even after Dr. Leone sent Mr. Nehf and every other Board member a letter detailing his objections to it, still no other Board member objected to Mr. Nehf's plan. The Executive Director gave each of you advanced warning that he was about to do something that would violate the STRS employees' legally-binding labor contract and that was explicitly contrary to written Board policy. And after all that, you as a group, our STRS Board, still had no questions, no comments, no criticisms, and certainly no corrections for Mr. Nehf or of his plan. That to me is unbelievable and from this retiree's perspective truly sad.
This Board prides itself on wanting to speak with "one voice". On this particular issue, it certainly has. And that voice was one of silence. I don't think you fully realize when this Board loses its voice, every active and retired teacher across the state of Ohio loses his or her voice, also. But then again, maybe you do realize that and that's the way this Board wants it. In Herb Dyer-"ese" you're still telling us all -- to just go home.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to you today.
(Photo: Lloyd Knudsen)
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