Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kathie Bracy to Representative Pelanda: STRS retirees need your help

The Honorable Dorothy Pelanda
The Ohio House of Representatives
Columbus, Ohio 43215
July 15, 2012
Dear Representative Pelanda,
Thank you for your willingness to listen to input concerning Ohio's five pension systems. I am a retired teacher in Columbus with 37.7 years of service, most of it in the Columbus City Schools district, and have been retired since 1998. My pension comes from STRS Ohio.
The retired administrator who also wrote you today was right on the mark when he/she said the 88%/35 year rule must go, and go quickly. STRS has a lot of housecleaning it needs to do, though many people are not aware of this. The STRS board has been for some time, and continues to be dominated by influence from the Ohio Education Association, and much of this has been very detrimental to retired educators, most of whom are former members of that organization and many of whom are life members of OEA-R. (I am a life member of all the major teachers' organizations.)
It is obvious to many that it was an OEA-dominated STRS board that put the 88%/35 year rule into effect for their own benefit, as well as that of their friends. If you take a look at STRS history of the past 10-15 years, you will see there was an incredible amount of corruption (flagrant spending on trips, alcohol, STRS credit cards, cars, etc.) and greed that existed at STRS at that time, thanks to the board; you will also find that a number of former board members (and a former executive director of STRS, as well as a former OEA president and other OEA officers) were convicted of ethics violations in Franklin County Municipal Court. I was present for almost all of their sentencings.
While many retirees are now watch-dogging what goes on at STRS, and there has been improvement, many of us still do not believe the board's actions affecting retirees are altruistic in most instances. While they may have tossed a few crumbs our way when the 88/35 rule went into effect, all of us who retired before 1999 with 35 years of service did not reap the huge benefits that our successors did; it was a real slap in the face to us. But worse than that, the generous payouts have had a detrimental effect on our pension system, yet that money is still pouring out of it today. The rule should never have been enacted in the first place for all the damage it has done and continues to do to our pension system. It needs to be stopped immediately. In case you aren't aware, no other state pension system, other than STRS Ohio, gives out an 88% pension for 35 years of service; the most they give is 77%.
There are other issues, which I will not go into, except to point out that almost without fail, STRS board actions that affect retirees are almost always detrimental to us financially, which is grossly unfair since we are retired and have no way to better our financial situations as do active educators drawing salaries far greater than our pensions. Actions that hurt retirees are almost always put into effect immediately. On the contrary, actions that affect active teachers work to their benefit most of the time, and are almost always “grandfathered” over a substantial period of time, which is NEVER done for retirees.
Recently, the legislature granted the STRS board the authority to make future changes without legislative approval that would affect both retirees and active educators. But the way they are authorized to do it is outrageous. Changes for retirees can ONLY be detrimental, financially; changes for actives can ONLY be beneficial to them, financially. It can NEVER be the other way around. You might want to read that sentence again. I have been struggling to find the fairness in it, but have not been able to. If all of this does not have the fingerprints of OEA all over it, then I'm missing something.
Retirees need all the help they can get. Since we no longer pay into the coffers of OEA, we get no help there. Since our retired teachers organization, the Ohio Retired Teachers Association, has demonstrated for years that it has no backbone when it comes to fighting for retirees (they always side with OEA and the OEA-dominated STRS board), we get no help there. As older citizens who have paid our dues and done our job, we don't have the power (the money) to put up a big fight, and OEA knows this. We can only hope that enlightened legislators such as you are willing to listen and go to bat for us.
Thank you for listening and for any help you can give us. Taking away our COLA for a year, then dropping it to 2% from 3% will hurt many retirees, who have already been hurt by increases in health care premiums and cutbacks in benefits. Rest assured that you will literally be saving lives if you can keep this from happening. There are 170 STRS retirees who are over the age of 100. They need your help more than anyone else. And they are not alone.
Kathie Bracy
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