Monday, February 25, 2019

Robin Rayfield to STRS Board: Where's the plan to restore our COLA?

From Robin Rayfield
STRS Comments February 21, 2019

Since I began my employment at the Ohio Retired Teachers Association in August of 2017, I have had an opportunity to visit over 50 local chapters of ORTA. At each of these meetings I am asked a variety of questions related to life as an STRS beneficiary. Without exception, I am asked about the status of COLA and when retirees might expect to receive the COLA that they were promised when they retired.

After watching the STRS Board of Trustees work for several months and hearing many retirees ask for the restoration of COLA, I began to voice my thoughts on this matter. Nearly 1 year ago, I suggested that the STRS Board of Trustees develop a 'Pathway to COLA' or a 'Roadmap to COLA'.

Now, after three consecutive years without a COLA, something that was a promised benefit when people retired, STRS retirees are not any closer to knowing the conditions that must be present for a return to COLA. In fact, after observing the Board of Trustees work for over 16 months, the only mention of a Pathway to COLA has come from people addressing the Board during the public participation portion of the meetings.

I recognize that multiple objections from ORTA officers and from individual STRS retirees made the STRS decision to suspend COLA a difficult one for the Board of Trustees. What is surprising to me is that there has been little discussion at STRS Board of Trustee meetings about how to restore COLA.

Perhaps it is time for the development of a subcommittee of STRS Trustees to begin the work that is necessary for such a pathway to be developed. The many factors that must be considered, will no doubt, take time to be discussed. I do not expect that this Pathway to COLA will be developed in a matter of days; probably more like a matter of months. 

ORTA remains ready to assist with the hard work of developing this Pathway. Certainly, it is appropriate for the retirees to ask, what is the plan to restore my guaranteed income?

Thank you for your time and willingness to listen

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Dean Dennis to STRS Board: Were we wrong to believe STRS would keep its word?

Dean Dennis' speech to STRS Board
February 21, 2019
My name is Dean Dennis, I retired after a 35 year career with the Cincinnati Public Schools. I am the STRS Chair for the CFT-Retirees Chapter, and also the spokesperson for the Ohio STRS Members Only Forum on Facebook.
Good morning:
A doctor says to his patient, "I've got some bad news and some worse news, what do you want to hear first?" The patient says, "doc, give me the bad news first." The doctor says, "well, your tests show that you only have about 24 hours to live." The patient says, "What do you mean doc, 24 hours to live! Doc, what news could possibly be worse?" The doctor says, "well, I've been trying to contact you since yesterday."
Life is filled with bad news and worse news scenarios. Here's one that's not a joke.
Ohio teachers fulfilled their contractual obligations for their pension, retired, yet experienced STRS renege on a pension promise; again, after they retired.
STRS approached the legislature to reduce our COLA from 3% to 2% and freeze our COLA for a year. The promise of a COLA was clearly stated in STRS literature for decades. Teachers don't get rich teaching. Retirees plan on their COLA. Reducing the COLA and freezing it for a year was bad news and a low blow.
However, the worse news came on July 1, 2017. You voted to eliminate our COLA completely with only a promise to review the decision no later than June 30, 2022. This financial loss isn't just bad, it's devastating. It's also disturbing. As retirees approach the end of their life expectancy, you put their financial health on a 5 year hold. You had other options.
The question has to be asked, what did retirees do wrong? Were they wrong to go into public education thereby trapping themselves in a forced Defined Benefit Retirement Plan? Were they wrong in believing the rhetoric STRS told them, that the employer was assuming all the financial risks? Were they wrong in believing all the STRS literature and annual brochures which stated, "a cost- of-living increase of 3% is granted each year once a member retires," which was also backed up by Ohio statute which stated "a 3% COLA shall be paid"? Or were they wrong in believing STRS would keep its word?
Retirees want to believe that decades of working in our schools while paying an employee contribution rate significantly higher than that of their neighbors would pay off upon retirement. Perhaps they were naive.
There are many things that past and present STRS Trustees could have done differently. Being allotted only 3 minutes, I don't have the time to cover that ground.
However, there is one thing that you never should have done and that was to take from those whose careers have ended, the most vulnerable of whom you represent, those who have met all their obligations. Retirees should not have to make up for your past mistakes and future ambitions. You changed the rules of the game after the game was over. That is wrong. You need to keep your promises. There's a saying, "A promise means everything, but once it's broken, sorry means nothing."
We cannot snap our fingers and go back in time and be 21 years old and start our work careers all over again; but you can honor your promises.
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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