Saturday, February 16, 2013

RH Jones: SERS Bd. voted 3-2 to approve Hawaii trip

From RH Jones, February 16, 2013
To all:
Three out of the five SERS Board members must not be aware of Ex-STRS Board member Dennis Leone’s fight to stop entitlement thinking on the STRS Board. To the STRS members, he understood the value of modern inexpensive electronic conferencing rather than expensive trips. Evidently the three SERS board members who approved the long trip to Hawaii have never heard of teleconferencing saving money for their SERS members. I wonder are the three, who voted to go, are the same three going? Not being a member of SERS, and not being privy to their Web site, I do not know for sure. Also, I wonder if NCPERS is the North Carolina Public Employee Retirement System? If it were the State of North Carolina’s conference, rather than a national conference, what benefit would it be to justify this great of an expense to their SERS?
As a Life Member of OEA, they forwarded me this info from the SERS Board meeting of 01/17, 2013.
Here is the OEA message concerning SERS:
Board Approves Travel Expenses
NCPERS CONFERENCE in Honolulu, Hawaii will be attended by three SERS Board members, May 19-23, 2013.
Cathy Moss: $3,972.03
Barbara Phillips: $3,978.16
MaryAnn Howell: $3,281.96
Board member James Rossler read a statement opposing this travel expense however the Board voted 3-2 to approve.
STRS members, if you know of anyone who may be a SERS member, it would be nice of you to mention that they might want to be more vigilant of their SERS Board. And if you happen to be a retired member of both STRS and SERS you should be doubly vigilant.
Out of the 5-Board members voting two did vote against the expensive trip. As you noticed, their SERS Board member James Rossler did read an opposition statement; so, I would think that SERS members would be grateful to him and want him, and the other opposition voter, to be re-elected! Certainly these thousands of dollars in travel expenses could have helped SERS funding during these hard times for Ohio’s public employees.
Being aware of the above extravagance, STRS retired members must remember what Dr. Leone did for us and vote for him ONLY when you receive your ballot. He is our best choice to speak out for retired teachers. His two opponents voted “yes” on our COLA cuts.
RHJones, retired Ohio teacher

In a nutshell, just who is Dennis Leone, anyway?

Dennis Leone is a retired superintendent from Chillicothe, OH who first received widespread attention in 2003 when he realized there was a lot of corruption taking place at STRS. Subsequent investigation revealed many instances of gross misspending of retirees' money for instances including parties, alcohol, expensive dinners, trips to luxurious vacation areas, credit cards and cars issued by STRS, a luxurious office building decorated with expensive artworks, etc., not to mention board members were also accepting gifts from vendors, which is clearly against the rules of ethics. In addition, extremely generous bonuses were being handed out regularly not only to members of the investment department, but to virtually ALL employees at STRS, for little more than merely showing up and doing their job. Thanks to Dr. Leone, one executive director and six STRS board members were convicted of ethics charges and summarily dismissed, and the misspendings brought to a halt.

Dr. Leone resisted numerous instances of erroneous and costly decisions on the part of the STRS board, and worked hard to reverse this type of thinking while serving on the board 2005-2009. Much reform has taken place because of Dr. Leone's efforts, yet there is much more that still needs to be done. A board (such as the current one) that permits language potentially very harmful to retirees in the current pension law, such as retaining the authority to take more money away from them at any time without legislative approval, or that does minimal (if any) debating on issues before passing them unanimously or nearly so, needs to be changed. If elected, Dennis Leone will continue to bring reform, in spirit and in letter, to the STRS board. 2.16.13

Friday, February 15, 2013

Report on February 2013 STRS Board meeting

From STRS, February 15, 2013
February Board News
Funding Status Improves for STRS Ohio’s Health Care Fund
Changes in plan costs and a better than assumed investment return on assets were two key factors that led to a strengthening financial picture for STRS Ohio’s Health Care Fund as of Jan. 1, 2013. At the February meeting of the State Teachers Retirement Board, STRS Ohio’s actuarial consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), presented the results of the annual actuarial valuation of the fund, showing the projected life of the STRS Ohio Health Care Fund now extends to 2060 — an increase of about 21 years from last year’s valuation. Though the report showed improved solvency, the health care program still requires changes in coverage features, program eligibility and/or premium subsidies to attain the three primary goals set by the board.
Costs for the health care program are paid out of the Health Care Fund, which is currently funded through premiums charged to enrollees, 1% of payroll from employer contributions, government reimbursements and investment earnings on these funds. The balance in the fund as of Jan. 1, 2013, was $3.12 billion.
At its November 2012 meeting, the Retirement Board affirmed the three primary goals of the health care strategic plan, which include establishing Medicare as the health care program’s cornerstone — helping the largest number of retirees for the longest period of time, achieving 30 years of solvency for the health care program by 2016 and extending forecasted solvency to 65 or more years by 2025.
Board Approves Changes to the Defined Contribution and Combined Plans
The Retirement Board approved several changes that will affect members enrolled in STRS Ohio’s Defined Contribution (DC) Plan and Combined Plan, including a move to improve the investment options for participants and a decision to change the portion of employer contributions used to help pay off the retirement system’s unfunded liability. As of June 30, 2012, about 14,500 active members were enrolled in these plans, compared to about 168,000 members enrolled in the Defined Benefit Plan.
The board has discretion to transfer any portion of employer contributions necessary to offset the negative financial impact of participation in a DC plan, as determined by the board’s actuary. This amount, known as the “mitigating rate,” recognizes that employer contributions are a required and vital part of the long-term funding of the STRS Ohio retirement plan. The current mitigating rate of 3.5% has been in place since DC Plan inception in 2001. Beginning July 1, 2013, that amount will increase to 4.5% of the 14% employer contribution. Using three different approaches, STRS Ohio’s actuary, PricewaterhouseCoopers, recommended a mitigating rate range from 4.85%–12.57% for the 2013–14 fiscal year. This change will impact members enrolled in STRS Ohio’s Defined Contribution Plan and may affect higher education faculty who are enrolled in an alternative retirement plan through a private vendor. Similarly, the 1% increase in member contributions for Combined Plan participants will be used to help pay for the defined benefit portion of their retirement rather than their DC accounts.
Beginning July 1, 2013, DC Plan participants will contribute 11% of their salary and will receive employer contributions of 9.5% of salary into the DC account. The new employer contribution rate reflects a 1% decrease from the current rate, but the overall 20.5% that will go into the members’ accounts remains the same.
In addition, the Retirement Board voted to lower investment fees charged on most investment allocation choices and to add eight new allocation choices to its lineup. The new allocation choices include a Russell Midcap Index and seven “target choice” options — also known as “target-date funds” — whose asset allocation changes over time. These “target choice” allocation options generally target a year in the future that would roughly match a participant’s expected retirement date. The closer to the target date, the more conservative the investment mix becomes — moving from a substantial allocation toward stocks in the early years to less risky bonds as the target date nears. The target choice options will consist of blends of domestic and international equities, as well as fixed income and real estate investments.
The Retirement Board also approved a change to the employer contribution vesting schedule for new members who enroll in the Defined Contribution Plan on or after July 1, 2013. These members will now vest 20% per year in employer contributions to their DC accounts.
More details about these plan changes and new investment options will be provided in upcoming STRS Ohio newsletters.
Board Approves Change to Reemployed Retirees’ Lump-Sum Payments and Monthly Annuities  
Reemployed retirees make contributions to the retirement system that provide a lump-sum payment or monthly annuity that is paid when their employment ends. The Retirement Board has authority to set the amount of employer contributions that can be added to this benefit. The Retirement Board voted to reduce the amount of employer contributions that are added to the reemployed retiree benefit to 0% from the current 5% rate. This brings equity between the funding of the reemployed retiree benefit and participants in the Defined Benefit Plan. This change will become effective for compensation earned on or after July 1, 2013. Reemployed retirees will retain the employer contribution match for previous years of service. Beginning July 1, 2013, 13% of the employer contribution on a reemployed benefit will be used to pay off the unfunded liability and 1% will be allocated to the Health Care Fund.
Retirements Approved
The Retirement Board approved 205 active members and 104 inactive members for service retirement benefits.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

RH Jones re: Hey ORTA members...get a load of this.....

From RH Jones, February 13, 2013
To all:
Many of us who are Life Members and Committee Members of ORTA, OEA, OEA-R have been ignored for years by the ultra conservative officials in power whom have been more interested in selling us insurance than representing retired teachers interests, especially those of us who have been retired the longest.
We had to go it alone to get Dennis Leone, PhD. elected on the STRS board. Although Dr. Leone was a school superintendent, as an educator he is allowed to be a member of ORTA (Ohio Retired Teachers Association); and therefore had a right to be backed by his association's officials. After his election, he got ORTA support only one time in a last minute plea by Bob Dengler to have a support campaign to kill SB 5. If an ORTA member (such as Dr. Leone) by popular majority vote, is elected to represent retired teachers on the Ohio STRS board, the ORTA officials are bound by this majority vote to back that member. They did not, unfortunately for all of us retired STRS members whom ORTA claims to support.
Also, we had no legal, moral, or active support from our unions for our battle to retain our constitutional right in regard to the promises made by our employer at our time of retirement. Other states are, why not Ohio? Membership is slipping in ORTA, OEA and OEA-R. Is it any wonder? The officials cannot just sit back and enjoy their perks. They have to work for us, heart and soul. Failure to do so will drive away membership and encourage those who want to destroy public common education.
This is an age of electric communication. Therefore, Our union officials need not ignore us members whom are actively online. Employed public school teachers, who ignore what these unions are doing to their retired members, can expect the same disregard after they retire.
My opinion,

I'm beginning to think ORTA doesn't like me.....

.....they keep deleting my posts on their FB page. Sorry, ORTA. I simply want a copy of your board policy so I can follow your rules. I wonder how many times I need to ask? Well, I'm trying again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hey ORTA members - get a load of THIS!!

From Kathie Bracy, February 12, 2013
From ORTA: Be Proud by Jon Rockhold, currently on ORTA's website:
"ORTA represents all persons who pay or have paid into STRS"
Since when does ORTA represent ME? Or many others I could name? I attend nearly every STRS Board meeting, and have for the last nine years. I NEVER see anyone from ORTA getting up and speaking on our behalf! Did ORTA fight to keep our COLA intact, either in the STRS Board room or at the Statehouse? I don't think so! Did anyone from ORTA fight to change the language in the current pension law that permits our illustrious STRS Board to take MORE money away from retirees any time they please, WITHOUT LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL? I don't think so! ORTA doesn't represent ME (a life member). I can't even find anybody on the STRS Board who represents me! I guess I'm just a lost sheep!

Note from John Curry: If you wish to read Jon Rockhold's letter in dripping praise of Ann Hanning just click on the link mentioned below or click on this following link:

I also have an additional question ...Where was ORTA when Dr. Leone and other retirees (myself included) went to the table to go to bat for those STRS retirees among us who have the lowest pensions in an effort to preserve their 3% COLA cut (as was done for the Ohio Highway Patrol Retirement System's oldest and most needy retired Troopers)? Neither Ann nor Jon Rockhold nor ORTA were anywhere in sight for that fight, were they?

A new post on ORTA's FB page

(Scroll down for yesterday's postings on ORTA's Facebook page) Click image to enlarge.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Better not post anything ORTA doesn't agree with on their FB site!

From Kathie Bracy, February 11, 2013

First I got this e-mail from ORTA today:
ORTA members are invited to visit the ORTA Facebook connection:

Also, find a connection on Facebook to the new AMBA Benefits for ORTA Members website. 

Why not invite a retired teacher friend to join us today? Retired teachers can join online or print a membership form and mail it to ORTA, 8050 North High St. Ste. 190, Columbus OH 43235

So then I went to ORTA's Facebook page and posted this (click images to enlarge):


.....and then this:

Both posts looked pretty good. But moments later when I checked again, POOF!! They were gone. And I noticed a brand new post:

Gee, did I say something wrong? I wonder why ORTA does NOT make their policies known before so rudely slapping down posts they don't like? Anybody out there know what their policies ARE? Why don't they make them CLEAR before we dare to express our opinions? Why do they treat their Life Members this way?

Some former STRS board members had this expunged from the Ohio Ethics Commission least one didn't!

From John Curry, February 4, 2013
Thanks to Dr. Dennis Leone's investigation of the internal operations of STRS and a gutsy letter to the Ohio Ethics Commission by an Ohio retired educator (and Concerned Ohio Retired Educator member) Sondra Stratton justice WAS SERVED, wasn't it?
She insisted they were meetings for conducting STRS business. The only people with her in the four box seats 10 rows back from the Indians’ dugout were her family. She and fellow board members attended the Broadway show “Hairspray.” She said they talked business before taking their front-row seats at the Tony-winning musical, during intermission and after the show. At least they didn’t give Ohioans a bad name by talking during the performance.
Sidaway unlikely to be last charged
April 18, 2006
COLUMBUS - If your name is Jack H. Chapman, Mike N. Billirakis, Eugene E. Norris, Deborah Scott or Joseph I. Endry, and if you served on the board of the State Teachers Retirement System, and you don’t have an attorney, you haven’t been paying attention.
If your name is Stephen Mitchell and you work at STRS as the deputy executive director for investments, you should be talking to an attorney, too. And there might be a few others at the pension fund who should consider getting legal advice.
A clear message came from the Franklin County Municipal Court last week. While Hazel A. Sidaway, a former Canton City Schools teacher, was on trial, prosecutors linked her to others on the STRS board and its culture of entitlement. The message: The Ohio Ethics Commission and prosecutors know about your shenanigans, and they’re coming after you, maybe as soon as next month.
Sidaway’s two convictions for violating state ethics law were a test of the strength of evidence in a more than two-year probe of corruption at the pension system. Offered a deal similar to that for former Executive Director Herb Dyer, who was convicted on one charge, Sidaway refused. She claimed she had done nothing wrong when accepting four tickets to a Cleveland Indians game and two tickets to a Broadway show.
She insisted they were meetings for conducting STRS business. The only people with her in the four box seats 10 rows back from the Indians’ dugout were her family. She and fellow board members attended the Broadway show “Hairspray.” She said they talked business before taking their front-row seats at the Tony-winning musical, during intermission and after the show. At least they didn’t give Ohioans a bad name by talking during the performance.
Perhaps the board should be charged with violating Ohio’s open meeting laws for conducting business without notifying the public. “They were not discussing matters appropriate for an executive session,” said Paul Nick, chief investigator for the commission. “Who knows what’s been going on?”
Something more troubling, however, became clear at Sidaway’s trial. Based on her own testimony, former in-house STRS attorney Cynthia E. Hvizdos apparently gave Sidaway bad legal advice, and she may have helped cover up the violations once the ethics commission began its investigation.
“Cindy Hvizdos agreed to assist in purposely disguising the tickets,” Nick said about her testimony. “She might be liable.”
Prior to the trial, Hvizdos offered to help Sidaway, who didn’t disclose that communication with her own attorney. He was caught off-guard and put at legal risk for failure to disclose the communication to prosecutors. Hvizdos retired because she has multiple sclerosis and apparently no longer practices law. So it’s not likely she will face charges or sanctions.
Sidaway’s ethics violations may not be the worst. One poorly kept STRS secret concerns a former board member who took his golf clubs on many, if not all, trips he made on behalf of STRS. >I've always found it difficult to play golf at night. So does that mean this board member was playing hooky from meetings while he was swinging a club?
Sidaway was not convicted of illegally accepting meals at high-end Columbus restaurants. Those meetings, too, could have been attempts to avoid the state’s open meetings law because the board’s investment counselor was careful to take only three or four members at a time, not a quorum. If board members were so intent on holding meetings over food, they could have eaten in the STRS cafeteria.
Apparently, the food wasn’t good enough, and neither was the show.
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
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