Saturday, May 05, 2007

How the Chicago Tribune views Ohio's charter school problem

Should states put brakes on charter school growth?
By Tim Jones, Tribune national correspondent
Chicago Tribune, May 3, 2007
DAYTON, Ohio -- Ted Strickland is the governor of Ohio, and LaTeefah Appleberry is a diminutive 14-year-old parochial high school freshman with big dreams. The two have never met, but they share a trait: They come from humble origins and have a strong desire to do good things.
They also hold passionate and conflicting opinions about the contentious issue of school choice -- vouchers and charter schools -- and together they help frame a noisy debate over Strickland's call to rein in the two alternative education programs that have gained footing in Ohio and across the nation in the past decade.
Calling the performance of many of the state's 310 charter schools "pathetic" and "indefensible" and arguing that vouchers undermine public education for the benefit of the few, Strickland wants a moratorium on new charters and an end to Ohio's 2-year-old voucher program.
Those recommendations amount to a declaration of war against those who argue that many public schools are fatally flawed and that the only way to prevent children from failing with them is to allow them to go elsewhere. Strickland, a Democrat, has sparked a furor among school choice supporters, including Appleberry, who is attending Archbishop Alter High School in the Dayton suburb of Kettering only because she has a state-paid voucher.
"I don't want to go back to no damn public school," Appleberry declared, echoing more bluntly the sentiments of other students and parents who see school choice as the only option for getting a good education.
A freshman classmate of Appleberry's, Shantelle Gunn, said some public high schools "are crazy. You'd be scared because there's too much emphasis on who has a weapon."
Ohio is among 40 states with charter schools, which receive state funding but are privately run and have the freedom to operate mostly under their own rules. About 1 million students nationwide attend charter schools. Ohio is also among six states with a school voucher program, enabling about 4,000 students to attend private schools of their choice, at state expense. Milwaukee has the nation's oldest voucher program, with 15,000 low-income students attending private schools.
Utah this year became the first state to enact a universal voucher law, allowing every child to receive money to attend a private school. But in March, the Missouri House rejected a bill to help 8,000 students from St. Louis and Kansas City attend private schools.
Illinois does not have a voucher program, but it has 42 charter schools, most of them in Chicago. Many studies of charter schools -- including a 2005-06 report by the Illinois State Board of Education -- have painted a mixed picture. Some schools report good grades in math and reading, while others either match or lag behind public schools. Even with mixed success, there is a waiting list of thousands to get into charter schools.
Governor wants to take stock
Strickland, who took office in January, says it is time to stop and take stock of what has -- and has not -- been accomplished by school choice in Ohio.
This is a fight over opportunity in a struggling industrial state where 1.8 million students attend public schools and where high school graduation rates in many big-city schools are chronically low. Strickland, who grew up in poverty in southern Ohio and lived for a while in a chicken coop after his family's home burned down, is a fervent believer in public education.
"There are those in our society and political leadership who have given up on public education, and they really don't believe that public schools ought to have a special place within our social structure," Strickland said in a recent interview in Toledo.
Reflecting the demand of some parents to get their children out of public schools, about 76,000 students attend charter schools in Ohio, and annual growth rates have been in double digits since the first charter school opened in Ohio in 1998.
Rapid growth may be part of the problem because the promise of better student performance has not been met. An October 2006 study of Ohio charter schools found that charter students in most districts performed worse or no better than their public school counterparts in reading and math. While some schools performed better, the overall lackluster performance prompted researchers to conclude, "Charter schooling in Ohio has reached a critical juncture."
Some charter schools are in severe financial trouble, and several have closed, including two in Columbus that accumulated $1.6 million in debt.
Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University, described the performance of charter schools nationwide as "mixed." Miron is conducting a study on charter schools in the Great Lakes states and says charters in the region generally don't perform as well as those in, say, Connecticut and Delaware, and often worse than public schools.
Much of this means little to parents whose children are doing well in charters. Charles Wheeler, a laid-off autoworker in Dayton, said his 13-year-old daughter Kiera is succeeding in ways he never could when he attended public schools. His daughter, an 8th grader, wears a uniform to school and earns A's and B's. She dreams of becoming a forensic scientist.
"We were just being pushed through to make it to the next grade level. ... You could pretty much do nothing and make it through the system," Wheeler said, adding that it was "a real eye-opener" when he got to the University of Cincinnati and discovered he couldn't keep up with the reading demands.
Dayton has 6,000 students in charter schools and 900 using vouchers.
Bernie Heflin runs the cafeteria at Archbishop Alter High School and has a 14-year-old son attending another school on a voucher. Public schools have their place, she said, but the flaws of some schools in urban districts should no longer be tolerated.
"I see where he [Strickland] is coming from, but Dayton Public Schools let me down," Heflin said, referring to her days as a student. "Look, the damage has been done to me. You don't want your kid to go down with the school."
House rejects proposals
It may be that politics at the state Capitol in Columbus will preserve something close to the status quo. The House this week rejected Strickland's proposals on charters and vouchers. And nearly 8,000 Ohioans have applied for vouchers. Strickland concedes that he may fail in his effort to kill the voucher program. Critics suggest there is a political inconsistency on the governor's part because he chose not to try to eliminate the voucher plan in heavily Democratic Cleveland that has been in effect since the mid-1990s.
But the fight over charter schools has forced a re-examination of the schools' performance and what the state should do to force better performance and accountability.
Jon Husted, the Republican speaker of the House from Kettering, is a defender of vouchers and charters and said both programs have improved the performance of all schools because they have introduced competition. But he acknowledged that charter schools have grown too fast.
"A free market without regulation leads to abuse, and that's what we had," Husted said.
Heflin said she is troubled by the failings of public education and a situation that seems to encourage people to look out only for themselves.
"It shouldn't be that way, but that's where it's going," Heflin said.
By the numbers
*Minnesota passed the first charter school law in 1991, and since then 39 other states and the District of Columbia have authorized charter schools.
*More than 960,000 students nationwide are enrolled in about 3,600 charter schools. California has the most charter schools, with 574 serving 190,000 students. Illinois has 42, serving about 13,000 students.
*Six states -- Ohio, Maine, Florida, Wisconsin, Vermont, Colorado -- and the District of Columbia have authorized school voucher programs.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Larry Flowers after meeting with the other four pension systems?

Could this be a picture of one of the sponsors of HB 152 (alternative investments) after he made his presentation to OPERS, Police & Fire, and the Ohio Highway Patrol system to try to tell them how great HB 152 would be for their systems to also participate in? The world needs more humor, doesn't it?? Is this guy serious???

John Bos re: A past meeting between Rep. Larry Flowers and STRS?

From John Bos, May 4, 2007
Subject: RE: HB152
Dear Ms. Kuhns:
Would you be so kind to inform me who Rep. Flowers met with at STRS prior to introducing HB 152. Since he is going to meet with the other 4 retirement system representatives, I would assume that he did meet with STRS.
Thanks for providing me with the name(s) and date of this meeting.
John Bos

Rep. Larry Flowers to John Curry: Gee -- that's a GREAT idea, to go after the other four pension systems, too!

I think I know the answer from some of the other pension systems! Larry will get ridden out of town on a rail!! John
Rep. Larry Flowers to John Curry, May 4, 2007
Subject: RE: On behalf of Rep. Flowers re: HB 152
Thanks for your follow up e-mail. I’m going to meet with the sponsor of HB 152, Representative Chris Widener, to discuss with him expanding this option to other pension systems and encourage meeting with representatives of the four other systems for their input.
Larry L. Flowers
State Representative
Ohio House District
[View previous correspondence here]

Bonuses: Does this practice sound familiar?

From Ryan Holderman, May 3, 2007
Subject: Does this practice sound familiar?
Dear One & All:
As I listened to the report (copied below) on the evening news, I was reminded of the discussion and arguments that I've heard at STRS for the bonuses given to its employees. One of the comments on the evening news was "what happened to the time when a person was hired to do a job and did not expect a bonus for doing it?" seems to me bonuses should be given for service above and beyond that which is expected. It should be a reward for superior performance not something given for doing what is expected.
I hope you'll take the time to read this article.
Later, Ryan
ABC News
Lawmakers Wants VA to Explain Bonuses
VA Awards Bonuses to Senior Officials Involved Shorting Budget, Vets Health Care
The Associated Press
May 3, 2007
Congressional leaders on Thursday demanded that the Veterans Affairs secretary explain hefty bonuses for senior department officials involved in crafting a budget that came up $1 billion short and jeopardized veterans' health care.
Rep. Harry Mitchell, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on oversight, said he would hold hearings to investigate after The Associated Press reported that budget officials at the Veterans Affairs Department received bonuses ranging up to $33,000.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, who heads the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said the payments pointed to an improper "entitlement for the most centrally placed or well-connected staff." He has sent a letter to VA chief Jim Nicholson asking what the department plans to do to eliminate any bonuses based on favoritism.
"These reports point to an apparent gross injustice at the VA that we have a responsibility to investigate," said Mitchell, D-Ariz. "No government official should ever be rewarded for misleading taxpayers, and the VA should not be handing out the most lucrative bonuses in government as veterans are waiting months and months to see a doctor."
One member of the House committee, Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., called for Nicholson to resign.
A list obtained by the AP of bonuses to senior career officials in 2006 documents a generous package of more than $3.8 million in payments by a financially strapped agency straining to help care for thousands of injured veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among those receiving payments were a deputy assistant secretary and several regional directors who crafted the VA's flawed budget for 2005 based on misleading accounting. They received performance payments up to $33,000 each, a figure equal to about 20 percent of their annual salaries.
Also receiving a top bonus was the deputy undersecretary for benefits, who helps manage a disability claims system that has a backlog of cases and delays averaging 177 days in getting benefits to injured veterans.
The bonuses were awarded even after government investigators had determined the VA repeatedly miscalculated if not deliberately misled taxpayers with questionable methods used to justify Bush administration cuts to health care amid the burgeoning Iraq war.
Annual bonuses to senior VA officials now average more than $16,000 the most lucrative in government. All bonuses are proposed by division chiefs, then approved by Nicholson.
A VA spokesman said the payments are necessary to retain hardworking career officials. "Rewarding knowledgeable and professional career public servants is entirely appropriate," spokesman Matt Burns said.
Several watchdog groups questioned the practice. They cited short-staffing and underfunding at VA clinics that have become particularly evident after recent disclosures of shoddy outpatient treatment of injured troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
"Hundreds of thousands of our veterans remain homeless every day and hundreds of thousands more veterans wait six months or more for VA disability claim decisions," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. "The lavish amounts of VA bonus cash would be better spent on a robust plan to cut VA red tape."
In a letter to Nicholson, Akaka also asked the department to outline steps to address disparities in which Washington-based senior officials got higher payments than their counterparts elsewhere.
"Awards should be determined according to performance," said Akaka, D-Hawaii. "I am concerned by this generous pat on the back for those who failed to ensure that their budget requests accurately reflected VA's needs."
Burns, who said the department is reviewing Akaka's request, said many of the senior officials have the kind of experience that would be hard to replace.
"The importance of retaining committed career leaders in any government organization cannot be overstated," Burns said.
VA officials characterized the agency's Washington-based jobs as more difficult, often involving management of several layers of divisions that would justify the higher payments.
In 2006, the VA officials receiving top bonuses included Rita Reed, the deputy assistant secretary for budget, and William Feeley, a former VA network director who is now deputy undersecretary for health for operations and management.
Also receiving $33,000 was Ronald Aument, the deputy undersecretary for benefits, who helps oversee the strained and backlogged claims system that Nicholson now says is unacceptable.
In July 2005, the VA stunned Congress by suddenly announcing it faced a $1 billion shortfall after failing to take into account the additional cost of caring for veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The admission, which came months after the department insisted it was operating within its means and did not need additional money, drew harsh criticism from both parties and some calls for Nicholson's resignation.
In urging Nicholson to step down, Hare cited problems with accounting and data security that contributed to the loss of 26.5 million veterans' personal data last year.
"Time and time again, Secretary Nicholson, a former chair of the Republican National Committee, opted to offer political spin instead of preparing for the inevitable influx of new veterans entering the system," Hare said. "Veterans deserve a secretary that will fight for them."
The investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, determined the VA had used misleading accounting methods and claimed false savings of more than $1.3 billion, apparently because President Bush was not willing, at the time, to ask Congress for more money.
According to the White House Office of Personnel Management, roughly three of every four senior officials at the VA have received some kind of bonus each year. In recent years, the payment amount has steadily increased from being one of the lowest in government $8,120 in 2002 to the most generous $16,713 in 2005.
In contrast, just over half the senior officials at the Energy Department in 2005 received an average bonus of $9,064. Across all government agencies, about two-thirds of employees received bonuses, which averaged $13,814 in 2005, the most recent data available.

On the Net: Veterans Affairs Department:

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Computer tip -- Want to check the weather real quick? Open your favorite search engine (I like and type in "weather 43215" and you'll get the weather for Columbus. Use any zip code or city name you want.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Rx and your wallet -- It's time for another letter writing campaign

"It should now be crystal clear to the American public that those behind this legislation have been completely purchased by the Big Pharma lobby. It is a complete joke that they are trying to pawn off this legislation as 'safety legislation.' This legislation is designed to protect Big Pharma profits for the next 50 years, and include new FDA regulatory powers that can be used to stamp out Big Pharma competition - including dietary supplements. Let your Senators know that you support the Dorgan amendment."
From: Frank Kaiser
Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2007 2:36 PM
Subject: [SeniorNews] Fight Erupts on Senate Floor Senators Bribed by Big Pharma vs. Senators Not Bought Off - from Suddenly Senior
Fight Erupts on Senate Floor
Senators Bribed by Big Pharma vs. Senators Not Bought Off

By Byron J. Richards,
CCN May 2, 2007

As the Senate continues to debate the Big Pharma-friendly sweeping reform of the FDA a new problem for Big Pharma's prize Senators has erupted and quickly turned into confrontation on the floor of the Senate. At stake is at least 10 billion dollars per year in exorbitant Big Pharma profits. In one corner is Big Pharma-puppet Orrin Hatch (R-UT), representing the Kennedy/Enzi drug cartel. In the other corner is a majority of Senators lead by Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

At issue is an amendment that Dorgan has added to S1082, one that is vehemently opposed by the authors of the bill and by the White House. Dorgan's amendment calls for Americans to be able to purchase prescription drugs from other countries. This would bring to an end the Big Pharma price-fixing scam that has Americans paying at least twice as much for the same drugs. Hatch unsuccessfully pleaded with Dorgan (while attacking him) to withdraw the amendment. Bush is threatening to veto the entire bill if the Dorgan amendment is part of the legislation. The Safety Scam The Kennedy/Enzi/Hatch/Clinton drug-cartel Senators are now in a real jam. Dorgan has the votes to make his amendment stick. Hatch and company have argued unconvincingly that the Dorgan amendment would expose Americans to adulterated drug imports. This is just another fake safety argument that holds no water and is being made solely to protect the excessive profits of Big Pharma (as is the entire bill).

It should now be crystal clear to the American public that those behind this legislation have been completely purchased by the Big Pharma lobby. It is a complete joke that they are trying to pawn off this legislation as "safety legislation." This legislation is designed to protect Big Pharma profits for the next 50 years, and include new FDA regulatory powers that can be used to stamp out Big Pharma competition - including dietary supplements. Let your Senators know that you support the Dorgan amendment. A Vote is Likely on Thursday Word from the hill is that all amendments and changes to this legislation will be finalized by Thursday and a vote will take place. In addition to the Dorgan amendment several other amendments are expected to come up - one very good and one very bad. The good amendment will be proposed by Senator Grassley (R-IA) and will seek to create an independent office within the FDA to monitor the safety of drugs already on the market (this would be another big blow to this legislation). The bad amendment will come from the vitamin-hating Dick Durbin (D-IL) who will try to place food safety legislation into this drug safety bill. Not only is his amendment completely irrelevant to this legislation, he will, as always, figure some way to attack dietary supplements. I'll keep you posted.

We must also get our amendment, THE PEOPLE'S AMENDMENT, into this legislation (see action letter at following this article). The People are Now Being Heard We have word that the offices of Hatch, Harkin, Enzi, Kennedy, and many other Senators are being flooded by your concerns regarding what this bill can do to undermine health freedom and your access to dietary supplements. Their offices are seeking to tell those who get through that we are confused and that the legislation is not about dietary supplements.

Don't buy this for a second. We are not confused. The language in the bill is crystal clear. It is a sneaky and devious wording buried in the bill. The Senate drug cartel hoped we wouldn't notice. On pages 106-107 it states: "The purpose of the Foundation is to advance the mission of the Food and Drug Administration to modernize medical, veterinary, food, food ingredient, and cosmetic product development, accelerate innovation, and enhance product safety....The Foundation shall [take] into consideration the Critical Path reports and priorities published by the Food and Drug Administration, identify unmet needs in the development, manufacture, and evaluation of the safety and effectiveness, including post approval, of devices, including diagnostics, biologics, and drugs, and the safety of food, food ingredients, and cosmetics."

This language has been evaluated by Jonathan Emord, our nation's leading attorney that defends health freedom, the man who has beaten the FDA in court more than any other lawyer. He states that this language gives the FDA, through this foundation, broad new regulatory power that it currently does not possess, including the authority to attack any dietary supplement (which are food ingredients). A simple amendment to correct this problem has been prepared by Emord and is in the action letter that follows. WE ARE BEING HEARD. KEEP SENDING IN YOUR MESSAGES. There are two days to go. We can win this!

Sample letter: Anti S.1082 Food and Drug Revitalization Act May 2, 2007 The Honorable (Senator First and Last Name) Address Address
Dear Senator Last Name;

The issue of drug safety and access to drugs at a fair price is of the utmost importance to myself and all Americans. In general, I am opposed to Senate bill S1082: Food and Drug Administration Revitalization Act, as it does not go far enough to protect myself and my family from the dangers of drugs. As one of the 150 million Americans that rely on dietary supplements to keep myself and my family well, I am especially concerned that this legislation broadens FDA regulatory power to harass functional foods and dietary supplements - which has nothing whatsoever to do with drug safety.

It is vital that the terms "food" and "food ingredients" be removed from this legislation. There must be no confusing the safety of drugs and the safety of food and food ingredients - which are governed by different laws. This bill authorizes, on pages 106-107, the creation of a new regulatory category that enables the FDA and the Reagan-Udall Foundation for the FDA to attack dietary supplements and functional foods. This problem in the wording can be corrected with this simple amendment - so as to be sure this legislation is about drugs and drug safety only.

Amendment to Bill S1082

Purpose of the amendment: The bill, S1082: The Food and Drug Administration Revitalization Act, is hereby amended to eliminate any reference to the terms food or food ingredients, such that food and food ingredients will not be subject to any jurisdiction or control by the Reagan-Udall Foundation for the Food and Drug Administration.

Intent of amendment: To eliminate from the bill any possibility that food or food ingredients would be treated like drugs either for safety review purposes or for assessment of their efficacy. It is a fundamental tenet of food and drug law that foods and food ingredients are presumed to be safe and have to be established to be adulterated only if they present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury

I am in favor of the Dorgan amendment that enables Americans to get a fair price on prescription medication.

I am in favor of any Grassley amendment that offers an independent office within the FDA to monitor the safety of drugs already on the market.

I am opposed to the amendment being prepared by Durbin, as food safety is a completely different issue and must be kept out of drug safety legislation so that there can be no confusion between drug safety and food safety laws - which are quite different.

To get information on contacting your Senators, click here.
To get information on your Congressperson in the House of Representatives, click here.

Call the Capitol toll-free: 800-828-0498, 800-459-1887, or 800-614-2803

Related Articles:
May 1, 2007 - Action & Updates from Byron Richards
April 30, 2007 - Action & Updates from Byron Richards
April 24, 2007 - Bill Details

John Bos and Jeff Chapman re: Raises and new positions at STRS

John Bos to Jeff Chapman, May 2, 2007
Subject: Re: Would you kindly explain the recent STRS Board Actions

Thank you VERY MUCH for sending me this email. This helps to understand some of the issues. I do have concerns about adding new positions. I do not have a problem with a modest pay raise. I do not have a problem with efforts to improve the investment returns.
I did have a problem with hiring the consulting firm to secure new investment staff members. To the best of my knowledge that has not produced new associates.
Please keep your eyes and ears open during the discussion of the PBM contract for 2008. Many of us are not happy with Caremark. Dr. Asbury keeps telling us how much we have saved, but we have never seen the spreadsheet to document these savings.
Thanks for your efforts.
John Bos
From Jeff Chapman, May 2, 2007
Subject: RE: Would you kindly explain the recent STRS Board Actions

Mr. Bos,
Thanks for writing. Let me assure you that there have been NO pay increases of 14% for anybody on the STRS staff. At our April meetings, the Board heard the initial estimates regarding next year's budget. Of the projected 10% increase, a good deal of that would be for positions and salaries that have already been adopted unanimously by the board as part of an overall compensation package. Staff has taken a look at that proposed budget and have made cuts that enable the projection to be 8.6% now. No action on the budget will be taken until the June meetings.
Also at that meeting, the Board was asked to approve the annual review of the investment incentive program.Part of that package is an attempt to compete effectively for investment talent by bringing our compensation target to the 25th percentile of current private market levels, thereby allowing us to replace investment associates that have left STRS. I was/am in favor of that -- the board had previously indicated that it supports this change.
However, also included in the report was the creation of new staff positions. I could not support the motion to approve the report because I knew nothing of these new positions.
I hope this clears things up for you -- at least a little. You can access all Board documents at the STRS website ( You can also ask to have recordings of all Board proceedings sent to you on CDs.
Please let me know if I can be of any further help and thank you, once again, for writing.
Jeff Chapman
From John Bos, April 30, 2007
Subject: Would you kindly explain the recent STRS Board Actions

Good Morning Mr. Chapman:
I have just heard via the Internet that the STRS Board approved a 14% pay increase for the staff and also added 9 additional positions. I also understand that you did not support these actions.
Would you kindly explain to me briefly the issues regarding these actions.
For your benefit, I have not had a raise in my STRS pension for the past 2 years due to the increase in medical expenses. My wife (on Medicare) and I depend on STRS and Medicare for our medical coverage. As a result, we are going down hill $$$ with STRS and will continue this course next year with an estimated 12% increase. My 3% increase in benefits does not equal this increase in medical costs.
How can we justify an increase of this size that NO school district, state agency, industry, or other employment is granting increase beyond 3%.
Thanks for your assistance to help me understand the actions of the other board members.
John Bos
A 1989 Retiree

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May 1 update on John Lazares

From John Curry, May 1, 2007
Subject: Just talked to John Lazares
Just got off the phone with John L. He is feeling better...despite the staph infection that he did have. That infection was a major problem that prevented a rapid recovery. He advised that he lost 30 pounds in this ordeal. John is looking forward to attending the May STRS Board meeting. Just yesterday John was back at work at his school (only a part of the day). Looks like "the Fonz" (as I like to call him) will be back with us soon..... what a relief!!

Flashback, 3 years ago: Incumbent loses spot [to John Lazares] on State Teachers Retirement System board

Flashback -- Canton Repository, May 9, 2004
By PAUL E. KOSTYU Copley Columbus Bureau chief
COLUMBUS — In a stinging rebuke to the leadership of their unions, Ohio teachers elected Superintendent John Lazares to the board of the State Teachers Retirement System.
Lazares, who leads the Warren County Educational Service Center, defeated incumbent and current board chairman Eugene Norris of Columbus. He won by just 274 votes among the 44,976 that were cast by mail during the past several weeks.
The Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers had endorsed Norris and reportedly spent tens of thousands of dollars on his re-election campaign.
Lazares, on the other hand, was supported in large part by retired teachers, who were not eligible to vote because the seat belongs to an active teacher. Supporters stuffed teachers’ mailboxes at schools with fliers when they were not blocked by local union representatives.
The hotly contested election was prompted in part by news media accounts late last year about questionable spending at the pension system on artwork, staff bonuses, expenses and travel.
“I have to give credit to Ohio’s retired teachers,” Lazares said. “I knew it would be difficult to beat an incumbent, but teachers have always been my biggest supporters over the years.”
Lazares said he called Norris last week to wish him good luck and to thank him for running a clean campaign. “I can’t say that about OEA or OFT,” he said.
Norris said he accepted “the will of the people,” but didn’t have an explanation for his defeat. He said the board faces “complex issues with no simple solutions.”
He said he would continue to work on health-care issues and engaging system members during his remaining months on the board. “The system is in sound and good shape,” he said.
The closeness of the vote prompted one official and multiple unofficial recounts by 56 STRS employees who were paid $80 each to come in on Saturday to count the ballots in a very deliberative process, overseen by representatives of Norris, Lazares, the Ohio secretary of state and an internal auditor from STRS.
Ballots were mailed to 302,453 STRS members, but just 14.9 percent voted. After the first count showed Lazares ahead by 260 votes, Pamela Ennis, who represented Norris, asked for a recount. Lazares picked up four additional votes and Norris lost 10. The final vote was Lazares, 22,625, and Norris, 22,351.
Throughout the day, questionable ballots were pulled and sent to STRS Executive Director Damon Asbury, the candidates’ representatives and Cheryl Stewart from the secretary of state’s office. Of those ballots, 214 were rejected, many because no vote was cast. One ballot was ripped in half, and others had votes cast for write-in candidates including Daffy Duck, Yogi Bear and Gov. Bob Taft.
Lazares, who will take office Sept. 1, said he plans “to make sure STRS money is used efficiently. I will be very fiscally responsible.”
He said the effect of the retirees on this election should serve as a warning to incumbents or others who seek election to the board in the future. “They’re a very important force,” he said.
Lazares also said active teachers are more aware of how the pension system is operating. “They used to take it for granted,” he said. “I was one of those. Now they know they can’t be complacent.”
You can reach Copley Columbus Bureau chief Paul E. Kostyu at (614) 222-8901 or e-mail:

Monday, April 30, 2007

A letter to Jeff Chapman: Two Boards and Doing the Right Thing

From Kathie Bracy, April 30, 2007
Subject: Two Boards and Doing the Right Thing
Jeff --
I heard about the commotion that occurred at last week's ORTA board meeting with members confronting the board over its refusal to publish Dennis Leone's March 2007 STRS Report to ORTA in the Spring Quarterly, despite the need for thousands of retirees to have access to critical information it contained; and ORTA president Don Bright's silence when confronted with a contradictory statement he had made to one of the members regarding the reasons the report was rejected.
I understand you also canceled your afternoon appearance to speak to the ORTA board that day due to circumstances surrounding ORTA's initial invitation to you. Jeff, you did the Right Thing, and I want to thank you for that. I also want to thank you for standing up with Dennis at the April STRS Board meeting in opposition to the huge salary/wage increases for staff Damon was asking for (I believe it was $1.5 million, nearly a 14% increase), in addition to adding nine new positions, knowing the position titles, but NOT why they are needed, what they are going to do and how much they will be paid!
Jeff, this is the Old Board all over again!! They are rubber-stamping Damon exactly as the Old Board rubber-stamped Herb Dyer!! What in the world has happened to common sense?!! I thought things were improving with the new Board, then THIS happened! Thank you, Jeff, for having the smarts and the guts to stand tall. Please keep up the good work. I hope the others will wake up and pay attention and acquire enough sense to follow your example.
Kathie Bracy

Damon explains "excess funds" of STRS scholarship

From Damon Asbury, April 30, 2007
Subject: RE: STRS scholarship?
In 1995 and 2000, the STRS Retirement Board sponsored anniversary events to commemorate the 75th and 80th years of STRS. Both events were funded by contributions from members and others to underwrite any associated expenses. It was specifically noted that any funds not used for the anniversary events themselves would be contributed to a scholarship fund. Those were the “excess funds” over and above those needed for the events. The events for the 75th anniversary included establishing a commemorative park dedicated to teachers at the Ohio Historical Society village, placing commemorative plaques at the Ohio Statehouse, and issuing a publication on the first 75 years at STRS. The 80th anniversary included the creation of Discovery Park at the STRS building. Once the expenses for these events and activities were paid, the balance of remaining funds were directed to the establishment of the STRS scholarship endowment fund.
From Kathie Bracy, April 24, 2007
Subject: Re: STRS scholarship?
I am curious about the "excess monies" mentioned in the first two paragraphs. How was it determined that money was "excess?" Excess after what?
Thanks --
[Click here to view Damon's 4/23/07 explanation of the scholarship fund]

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A chat with John Lazares

From Kathie Bracy, April 29, 2007
I had a nice telephone chat with John this evening; he was sitting on his deck; yesterday was the first he'd set foot outside; he attended an event his son was involved in, and paid for it today.
John had his second knee replacement surgery (same knee as before) in February. They've gotten rid of the staph infection that had given him so much pain for so long; but there's a lot of scar tissue, and the excruciating pain continues. If you thought he had disappeared from the radar screen, he pretty much had, as he was kept pretty sedated for nine weeks with pain killers. John is getting physical therapy three times a week, and the therapist comes to the house. From his description, the experience is anything but *fun*.
John wants to thank everyone for their cards, letters, etc. He's really grateful to have so many friends at a time like this. He's going to try to make it to the May Board meeting at STRS. If you come, you'll see a thinner John because of all this. He's also hoping to go in to work tomorrow for an hour. We all wish him the best for a full and speedier recovery from his long ordeal.

John Curry to Rep. Larry Flowers re HB 152: Why US and not THEM?

From John Curry, April 29, 2007
Subject: Re: On behalf of Rep. Flowers re: HB 152
Representative Flowers,
I thank you for your prompt reply to my letter re. HB 152 (alternative investments). I notice that you didn't address my question as to why this bill is aimed only at those who are employed in the field of public education and not other areas of public service such as municipal workers, police officers and firemen (not just in your former fire house), members of the Ohio Highway Patrol, county employees, etc., their respective union leadership and respective retirement systems.
Since HB 152 bill does present investment alternatives to those in the field of public education.... why not allow other public employees the same choice? Also, have you talked to officials of local school districts, SERS, and STRS concerning their feelings and input concerning this proposed bill. They will also be affected should HB 152 become law.
If you have talked to some or all of the officials of these affected entities - what were the feelings of these officials? I realize I may be asking for a lot but.... this proposed bill could affect the retirement of tens of thousands of Ohio's public employees. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to consider my questions.
John Curry
Click here to view John Curry's previous letter to Rep. Flowers
Click here and here for more information on HB 152.
Rebecca Kuhns to John Curry, April 28, 2007
Subject: On behalf of Rep. Flowers re: HB 152
Dear John,
Thanks for your e-mail and your input on HB 152. You are correct; I was a firefighter/ paramedic for 30 years and fire chief for 22 of those years. I retired in 2000 under police and fire retirement.
The ‘intent’ of HB 152 is permissive and gives public servants options to invest their money. I will however review the bill to be sure it does not gut any system. I have spoken to some of my former employees and they like these options.
We should both be more concerned of how our systems are spending and investing! Again, thanks for your input.
Larry L. Flowers
State Representative
Ohio House District 19
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
web page counter
Vermont Teddy Bear Company