Thursday, April 04, 2013

Dennis Leone, candidate for STRS Board, in his own words

Dennis Leone
The March 2013 issue of STRS Ohio News was enclosed with each ballot for the election of two candidates for the retired seats on the STRS Retirement Board. Profiles were given for each of the four candidates, along with Significant accomplishments and each candidate’s responses to three questions. Below is the information provided on Dennis Leone, by Dennis Leone. The election runs April 4 - May 6, 2013, with votes to be tabulated on May 11.
~  ~  ~  ~  ~
DENNIS LEONE: Retired, Lancaster City Schools, General Sherman Junior High School Principal, 2009-2010; Ohio University-Chillicothe Branch, Pre-School Child Development Center Director, 2005-2008; Chillicothe City School District, Superintendent of Schools, 1997-2004; Talawanda City School District (Oxford, OH), Superintendent of Schools, 1984-1997; Liberty Center Local School District, Superintendent of Schools, 1981-1984; Preble-Shawnee Local School District, Assistant Superintendent, 1980-1981; Initial Public Education Employment: Alexandria City School District, Alexandria, VA, 1974-1980. Current member: STRS Committee of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators; Ohio Council of Professors of Educational Administration. Past member: Elected member of the STRS Board of Directors (2005-2009); Legislative Chair, Ross County (Ohio) Retired Teachers Association; Legislative Affairs Committee Member, Buckeye Association of School Administrators.
Significant accomplishments: In 2003, published a 13-page report on how the STRS Board was spending pension money irresponsibly on things like parties, booze, lavish Hawaii trips, and giant bonuses for hundreds of STRS employees. These findings triggered significant reform at STRS. Several newspapers formally recognized my research. In 2007, successfully advanced several new policies while serving as an elected STRS Board member that provided new oversight for Board member expenditures and STRS contracts desired by the staff.
Why do you want to be a member of the State Teachers Retirement Board?
I wish to be a voice on the STRS Board to protect retirees' COLA and health care. The newly adopted pension solvency plan that was signed by the governor has a provision that concerns me greatly. The language gives the STRS Board the legal authority to reduce our COLA in the future without legislative approval. I testified against this language provision at the Statehouse before the law was passed, and I learned that neither of the retiree members on the STRS Board formally objected to the new language. Interpreted literally, this provision will give a future STRS Board the ability to put more money in the pockets of active teachers (by, let's say, lowering their annual contribution rate) and pay for it by reducing a retiree benefit. STRS boards in the early 2000s made decisions that favored active teachers or STRS staff over retirees.
One example was the adoption of the ill-advised 88%/35-year benefit around the same time the board eliminated the 13th check for retirees and health insurance subsidies for retiree spouses. Can these types of decisions happen again? Yes, unless enough board members object to it. Board decisions have not always been as sensitive to retiree concerns as they could have been and should have been. The COLA simply should not have been cut for the very oldest retirees who have the least. Many provisions in the new pension solvency plan (like increasing the minimum age for retirement and raising the final average salary from three years to five years) should have occurred ten years ago to make the financial picture at STRS better today.
When I served as a board member in 2005-2009, my fellow board members were not interested in developing a contingency plan to mitigate a possible future downturn in the stock market. I also recall, when I served on the board, I was the only member who was dependent upon the STRS health insurance plan. I found myself always asking the STRS staff to seek ways to help retirees. While the board has tone to great lengths to have generous phase-in periods for future pension system changes that affect current active teachers, changes adversely affecting retirees have never been phased in. They have always been immediate in nature. Grandfathering current STRS retirees has never been seriously considered. STRS Executive Director Damon Asbury admitted publicly in 2004 that the board and the staff had lost touch with the membership in the early 2000s. This cannot happen again, and retirees need a stronger voice on the board. In fact, there should be more than two retirees on the 11-member STRS Board, and I hope to pursue legislation that will cause this to happen.
What do you see as the role of a State Teachers Retirement Board member?
The role of the STRS Board is driven by Ohio law. It stipulates that board members are to prudently discharge their duties “solely in the interest of the participants and their beneficiaries,” and for the “exclusive purpose of providing benefits to the participants and their beneficiaries.” While I believe that a reasoned, collaborative working relationship between board members is in everyone's best interests, such must translate into board members doing everything they can to protect retirees. Before a vote is taken on any issue, Board members need to always ask: “How will this action impact retirees, and will it affect retirees adversely?” Asking this question has not always been a priority in past years.
Board members must work collectively together, and cannot take a “hands-off” approach when it comes to governance and financial decisions. It is true that board members must always desire to attract and retain highly qualified employees at STRS, but board members also have a responsibility to be realistic about the individual contracts, salaries, and fringe benefits that are provided to staff. I have found that board oversight in this area is critical to ensure that salaries and investment staff bonuses are not excessive, and that spending abuses do not occur again. Further, when retirees are forced to pay more for their health insurance, for example, so should all STRS employees, on a proportional basis. I wrote in 2003 that the STRS staff – with over 700 employees – had become bloated. I feel that fiscal responsibility prevailed when I served as a board member in 2005-2009. The staff size at STRS now is more reasonable, standing at less than 600 employees.
How would you prioritize the key issues that the State Teachers Retirement Board should focus on?
Board priorities in the future, in addition to those listed above, need to include the development of a meaningful contingency plan to deal with a future stock market downturn and other related economic realities. It is likely that the pension solvency plan recently signed by the governor will need adjustments, and probably before 2018. The future steps that are taken must protect our pensions, our COLA, and our health care. In the immediate past, the STRS Board and staff have not used realistic revenue assumptions for STRS. The staff knows this now and has recently lowered them, after resisting to do so for years.
Stock market returns likely will not be as high as we'd like them to be in the future, the total number of active teacher members likely will continue to go down (while the number of retirees will continue to go up significantly), and active teachers likely will not receive the annual salary increases at the same rate they received 10-15 years ago. In fact, more and more school districts in Ohio are currently dropping their automatic “step” increases for teachers. All of this spells a problem for STRS. I wrote prior to the stock market fall in 2008 that these trends commanded the STRS Board to develop a contingency plan and realize that absent fantastic stock market returns, STRS would be in trouble from a revenue standpoint in the future. My focus as a board member will be to work with fellow board members and the staff to develop a meaningful contingency plan in the immediate future, given the economic realities that have been very obvious. In short, retiree advocacy needs to be Job #1 for all 11 STRS Board members. My 84-year-old mother-in-law is totally dependent upon the STRS pension and the COLA she receives. I remind myself of this fact on a frequent basis.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Tom Curtis: STRS Election For 2 Retiree Seats On The Board

From Tom Curtis, April 1, 2013
Hello fellow STRS retiree,
By now you may have received your ballot for the election for the two retiree seats on the STRS Board. There are four candidates this year, one of whom is Dennis Leone, who served one previous term on the STRS Board, 2005-2009.
Dr. Leone has fought harder for retirees than anyone else before, during and after his term, both in the Board Room and at the Statehouse. Going against the tide of a "rubber stamp" board, he opposed many motions, often casting a lone dissenting vote, and always for good reason: protecting your best interests.
In my opinion, to get Dennis Leone elected to the STRS Board again, voters will need to cast a single vote for only one candidate, Dennis Leone. By doing so, we will increase his chances of winning. Please support Dennis Leone (only) for STRS Board, and spread the word among your retired teacher friends. We need him now more than ever. To learn more about him, please go to
Tom Curtis
STRS Retiree

Monday, April 01, 2013

From the Knudsens: Vote for ONE candidate -- Dennis Leone (and spread the word!)

Think about it: Why would OEA, a huge teachers union that gets its funding from active teachers, be spending thousands of their dollars to campaign for RETIRED teacher candidates on the STRS Board? If you look closely at the record of the two incumbents, you will KNOW why. Retirees, if you think OEA has YOUR best interest at heart, think again! What has OEA done for YOU since you retired? If you want a Board member who WILL fight for you (as he has done many times in the past, contrary to you-know-whom) you need to cast ONE vote only: for Dennis Leone. And tell your friends to do the same. KBB 

From Lloyd and Joanne Knudsen
April 1, 2013
Dear STRS Retiree:
You will soon be receiving in the mail an STRS election ballot to vote on two retiree seats for the STRS Board.  I strongly urge you to vote for ONLY ONE candidate—DENNIS LEONE! 
Dennis Leone almost single-handedly uncovered numerous unethical STRS Board actions back in 2003-2004.  Dennis with the help of a group called CORE (Concerned Ohio Retired Educators) helped bring ethics charges against several STRS Board members.  Dennis was later elected to the board and helped bring many needed changes to STRS operations and policies.  After serving one term on the board, Dennis could not run for re-election because he needed to return to a fulltime job in education.  I have included [here] Dennis’ own outline of WHY he is running for the board again.
NOTE***OEA is actively campaigning for the two current retiree board members who are running again.  These two current members vote pro-OEA (like reducing our COLA) and NOT pro-retiree!  I find it interesting that OEA who represents “active” teachers is spending active teacher’s money to send out an expensive mailer to every STRS retiree, not to elect an ACTIVE TEACHER CANDIDATE but to help re-elect a retiree board candidate.  I think OEA likes how these two vote—PRO-OEA, and NOT PRO-RETIREE! 
VOTE FOR DENNIS LEONE!!  Vote only for Dennis Leone and insure that you are not helping his opponents. 
Please email this message to all the retired teachers in your address book and help Dennis get elected to the STRS Board.
Thank you.
Lloyd Knudsen, 2003 STRS retiree

Joanne Knudsen, 1996 STRS retiree
Click here to learn more about Dennis Leone:

Jim N. Reed: Letter to the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette

From Jim N. Reed, March 30, 2013
Subject: Dr. Dennis Leone Needed at STRS  
A decade ago a half dozen board members and executive director in the STRS boardroom were convicted of ethics violations.  
Dr. Dennis Leone was responsible for blowing the whistle.  His award-winning investigative reporting focused  on the blatant waste of members' contributions.  
Dr. Leone was so concerned about what he discovered (using public records supplied by STRS) that he ran and won a board seat as a retired member representative. , During his term, out-of-control board entitlement spending  was curbed  and accountability to membership was expected.  Many  member/beneficiary-friendly policies were initiated and a semblance of respectability returned to the boardroom.  
Dr. Leone warned STRS of the potential for a downturn in the economy. He was ignored but correct.
Regardless, STRS continued to pay millions in bonuses to the very investors whose bad judgment devastated our system's bottom line.  
The bonus issue remains.  It is estimated in 2012 $8 million was spent for investor bonuses. Many individual annual bonuses exceeded the governor's yearly salary! This in spite of  teacher position eliminations, school district belt-tightening, state budget cuts and failed levies by exhausted local tax payers.  
Dr. Leone also has a  concern for retirees' COLA reduction.  (The current retiree representatives voted for this reduction.) There is also a stipulation in the recently passed pension system reform law that authorizes the STRS board to make policy without General Assembly approval. We know where that road leads.  
Dr. Leone is running again for a retiree representative seat on the board.  
I encourage every retired STRS member to be informed regarding this election and when you receive your ballot this April  vote for ONLY Dr. Dennis Leone.  
For additional information:  
Jim N. Reed
Baltimore, Ohio
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
web page counter
Vermont Teddy Bear Company