Monday, December 20, 2021

And who is Tom Curtis? He's not a moderator, but he sure has been showing up on MOF a lot.

Note: I've known Tom since he was five years old and I was his teenage babysitter (along with my three sisters), living in the same hometown, Alliance. Going off to college, then out of state for my music career, I didn't see him for many, many years. Then later, back in Ohio, I started seeing his name in the newspapers in 2003 as a reform activist with CORE (Concerned Ohio Retired Educators, now defunct), along with Dr. Dennis Leone's, working to reform STRS. Living in  Columbus, I decided to start attending  STRS Board meetings, and it wasn't long before Tom and I met up again and started a new friendship, working toward the same goals in the effort to bring about change. He knows a lot of STRS history, having lived through those early, tumultuous years. KBB

From Tom Curtis

December 20, 2021
My Involvement Concerning STRS Reform
I retired from Plain Local Schools in Canton OH in 1998 on a disability retirement. I taught high school industrial technology for 27 years.
In early 2003 I learned of Dr. Dennis Leone’s reform document. In August of 2003 a small group of retired teachers from Plain Local got a permit and organized a rally in front of the Capital Building, which brought out nearly a thousand teachers. We then marched on STRS. Herb Dyer, the executive director at that time, was furious that we had filled “his boardroom” and many other rooms with hundreds of disgruntled teachers. He told all of us to go home and stay home, that everything was fine at STRS. Obviously, we did not listen and for good reason.
I started attending all Board meetings in early 2003 and continued for the next 3-1/2 years, in support of Dr. Leone’s efforts to bring about change. After 3-1/2 years I could not stomach the corruption and stopped attending meetings, but stayed involved behind the scenes.
A small group of retirees initiated the beginnings of the support group CORE. We never received the support of much of the membership, as STRS/OEA constantly discredited Dr. Leone and CORE. At that time, ORTA would not support us either. Dr. Robin Rayfield has changed all of that.
The Board consisted of nine members in 2003. Five were OEA-supported Board members, one of which, Mike Billirakis was the past OEA president. OEA controlled the Board and always has. Dr. Leone found that the Board had voted “yes” for three prior years to all of the misspending and mismanagement. They were also unethically using funds to travel all over the country for seminars. Many spent in excess of $50,000 over a 3-year period. They only paid a small price for their greed.
Because of this imbalance on the Board, Dr. Leone helped draft Bill 133 that brought reform to the STRS Board. I presented a statement Dr. Leone had drafted thanking the committee for the changes being made and was involved in the signing of Bill 133 by the Gov. Bob Taft. That bill changed the Board to its current number of 11 members, which added a second retiree seat and outside financial specialists.
CORE continued our support and was very instrumental in getting two non-OEA members elected to the board, John Lazarus and then Dr. Dennis Leone. The OEA was furious and vowed that this would not happen again. Dr. Leone and CORE brought about many changes. We were able to push for ethics violations and convictions for all of the Board members and Herb Dyer. However, once Lazarus and Leone were off of the Board, STRS went back to business as usual. 
It has been a long road trying to stop the corruption at STRS, but with the support of ORTA, STRS, Ohio STRS Members Only Forum and the STRS membership, this upcoming election could bring about big changes. We will need the unity of all of the actives and retirees to bring this about. Never give up the fight! 

OEA is, and always has been, the problem! They essentially have approved all of the corruption. It is time it has stopped!

Jan Stewart: A New Generation Malcontent!

From Jan Stewart

December 20, 2021

I retired as a classroom teacher with 31 yrs. from Washington Local in Toledo, OH. As a single
mother, I continued on as a substitute teacher for 11 years while my son attended college, then medical school. 

When the COLA was suspended, I became very motivated to become active in my pension system. It appears I have a very strong passion for INJUSTICE! In the fall of 2018, I visited the Taj Mahal for the very first time while attending my first board meeting. I was so fortunate to meet and dine with Kathie Bracy and John Bos. There really was a time when members could dine in the cafeteria! 
I joined MOF in 2018 as well. I feel so grateful for all of the education I have received from the, "Malcontents" that have come before me. In 2021, I felt honored when I was asked to become the newbie moderator of MOF. It's been an incredible experience to be working so closely with such intelligent, caring, and hard working fellow moderators. 
This fall, my name was shared with Gretchen Morgenson of NBC News. Our interview led to the live stream with Hallie Jackson; both were opportunities to share my, OUR story of living on a fixed income pension in a high inflationary environment. 
One thing I know, I will continue to fight for pension reform. I really do believe that justice will prevail! In Kathie Bracy's words, "We all do what the spirit moves us to do." 

A special thank-you to John Bos who has prompted and mentored me every step of the way. Sir, I still remember the day you called and asked if I knew anyone at the Toledo Blade. Clearly I DID!!!

Robin Rayfield: Telling it like it is

December 20, 2021

Dr. Robin Rayfield is an STRS retiree, having retired as a public educator in Ohio in December 2011. Robin spent over 30 years serving Ohio’s children and adults in several roles: 

As a classroom teacher for 9 years Bellefontaine City and PDY Local

As a building administrator for 9 years PDY Local

As a district superintendent for 8 years Swanton Local and PDY Local

As a public university professor for 15 years U Toledo, Ohio U, and U Findlay

Robin is married to Stephanie (34 years) and has three children (Ryan 32, Reid 30, Ross 24)

Robin is currently the Executive Director of the Ohio Retired Teachers’ Association, a position he has held since August of 2017.

From Robin: 

My journey with advocacy for STRS retirees began when I was hired to be executive director at ORTA. I was unfamiliar with the problems that plague STRS. As I listened to everyone (STRS staff and people that were upset with STRS) I began to familiarize myself with ‘facts.’ Bob Buerkle and Dean Dennis were instrumental in my understanding of what is taking place at STRS and looking at things from a perspective that does not match the STRS perspective. Over the last four plus years I have learned a great deal from many sources, including experts on pensions such as Ted Siedle, Chris Tobe, Bob Stein, and others.

I have learned many things on this journey, however, the most basic lessons learned include:

·         STRS is NOT TRANSPARENT – This organization only provides information that is supportive of the STRS staff and their continued employment

·         STRS hires consultants that support STRS staff. The higher the contract STRS pays the consultants, the higher the praise the consultants have for the staff

·         STRS has been paying themselves bonuses every year without regard to any external benchmark. STRS claims to ‘add $100 million in value’ to STRS. Looking at the returns and expenditures through a lens that is not skewed towards STRS; STRS ‘costs’ the pension system $400 million. Why the discrepancy? See point one. STRS refuses to share information about costs, fees, expenses, and the value of its investments with the investors (active and retired STRS members)

As the Auditor of State and the Ohio Securities Commission conduct their investigations into potential fraud at STRS, the lack of transparency will be corrected. Know this… ORTA will continue to advocate for reforms at STRS. Our goal is to fix a broke system that works well for the employees and their highly paid consultants and friends on Wall St. but works against the people that put the money into the system.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Here's how John Curry got involved.....

From John Curry 

December 19, 2021
I retired (with a "combined retirement") as an educator in the Wapakoneta City Schools after
30 years in the classroom. I also served 42 years as an Ohio commissioned peace officer for my local county sheriff's department as well as a seasonal park officer for the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources.
I became involved in the reform movement of STRS in 2003 as a member (aka "Malcontent") of the Concerned Ohio Retired Educators (CORE) movement along with John Bos, Kathie Bracy and Dr. Dennis Leone. I became concerned at the time when benefits were being taken away from retirees and dubious reasons were given while bonuses were being passed out (invest and NON-investment staff) like they were candy. After Dr. Leone made dozens and dozens of discoveries involving misspending, mismanagement and an entitlement mentality I have been working to "educate the educators" of all the underhanded tricks that STRS has perpetuated over all these years....and still continue to do so. I will continue on until every teacher in this state finally understands what has been and is going on with their moneys at STRS....and that may take a while.

About John Bos, long time STRS activist, now a moderator of the Facebook group Ohio STRS Member Only Forum

From John Bos

December 19, 2021

I retired as a school administrator after 31 years. I also taught graduate classes at the  University of Dayton for 6 years.

My wife had significant medical issues. I began to examine our medical insurance and pointed out significant problems. This motivated me to investigate STRS.

John Curry, Dennis Leone, and Kathie Bracy became acquainted and were called Malcontents. 22 years later we continue our adventures with those that manipulate STRS for their benefits. The ENTITLEMENT ATTITUDE CONTINUES. I work hard my entire life and detest those that take advantage of opportunities to enrich their wealth.

I never took 1 cent from a district that wasn't earned. Most STRS ASSOCIATES can not make that statement. I intend to keep working of behalf of others that are active or retired to improve their STRS retirement.

Some well deserved words of appreciation from Dean Dennis

December 19, 2021 

A Big Thank You to Rudy, Wade and Yoel

Retired and active teachers are very lucky to have two Board member advocates that are outspoken and trying to fix the many problems within STRS. Rudy [Fichtenbaum] and Wade [Steen] work more hours on our behalf than we will ever know. A special "shout out" also goes to [Board member] Yoel Mayerfeld who is also very supportive. It's noteworthy that all three of these individuals have the strongest financial background.

Just who is Bob Buerkle? And how the heck do you pronounce that last name?

December 19, 2021

Well, if you've been to any STRS Board meetings and heard him introduce himself at the beginning of his speeches, you know how to pronounce "Buerkle". It sounds like "Berkley", plain and simple. 
Bob retired from the Cincinnati Public Schools in 2003 after 35 years of service. He served on the Retirement Committee with the CPS and the OFT for many years before becoming chairman of the committee for about 15 years.
He has been attending STRS Board meetings for over 30 years, and actually had his first meeting with an STRS Director, James Grothaus, in 1983. He has been involved in fighting against STRS takeaways since noticing the first one in 1992, the elimination of free healthcare in retirement, which was a promise made to teachers in 1974.
In 1994 Bob was involved with and supported the future retirees under the "Money Purchase Plan", which was similar to a 401k plan. STRS changed two legs of this plan. First, they greatly reduced the interest rate paid on their accounts, but then they also lowered the annuity payout factor by 50%, which ruined the plan. The closest explanation he can offer is that the immediate effect was similar to the Social Security offset that Ohio teachers suffer from WEP, the Windfall Elimination Provision.
These retirees had their pension payments reduced by 55 - 60% if they were under age 60 before the plan change went into effect. When implemented, it immediately affected about 16,000 future retirees. They sued and eventually lost their case in the Ohio Supreme Court.
Since 2012 Bob has been working to restore the STRS-promised COLA so our retirees do not also lose half of the lifetime value of our pensions, like the smaller group of "Money Purchase Retirees" did.
Bob says, "Never give up!"

STRS is only over 80% funded because retired teachers have donated 6 years of their COLA to STRS and active teachers are the only public employees in the United States projected to receive a negative return for their pension contribution. 

Dean Dennis' speech to STRS Board

December 16, 2021 
Dean Dennis, retiree from Cincinnati Public Schools
At the September 16, Board meeting, I stated my doubt regarding the STRS management claim their FY2021 investment expenses were only 12 basis points. I asked that the Board be shown the calculations. I brought this up again at the October Board meeting and called the Chair prior to the November meeting. Management is claiming, "after all management fees and costs, including carried interest and other fund expenses, investment costs were 12 basis points. CEM states our peers average between 50-60 basis pts. Our Board Chair forwarded my concern to management who sent an email to me. It stated my request was overly broad and failed to satisfy the requirement of public records law and mentioned some specific laws. Then graciously the email shared, "the information you seek may be found on page 58, note 3 of the 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report" which was a references the Dietz Method. I don't believe the STRS historical investment costs are 12 basis points. However, we might have a history of misreporting.  Maybe the State Auditor can help.
Moving on to last month's Board meeting. What the public may not know is that the presentation two of our Board members attempted to make, with a former Board member, was submitted to STRS management 10 days prior to the presentation. This might shed some light on why the presentation was continuously interrupted by management.  Management clearly knew  the presentation was going to discuss a new direction for bringing revenue into STRS. It would present a model used by a Canadian pension plan called HOOPP. HOOPP is regarded as the best public pension plan in North America.  STRS, not so much.  HOOPP is over 120% funded using investment strategies considered low risk. STRS Ohio's strategies are considered high-risk.  STRS is only over 80% funded because retired teachers have donated 6 years of their COLA to STRS and active teachers are the only public employees in the United States projected to receive a negative return for their pension contribution. 
Why wouldn't STRS members want to hear a presentation about the HOOPP model? They would.  Why wouldn't STRS management want members to hear a presentation about HOOPP?  Simple, discussions about CLAWing back our COLA aren't a threat to their jobs, however, a discussion that might leave them CLAWing back for their jobs is a threat.  This is why STRS management at one point shared they have used HOOPP strategies for over 30 years; but then turned around about a minute later and stated they back-tested a HOOPP strategy and it would have lost $21 billion since 2009. Confused? STRS seemed to use whatever was convenient depending whether they were on the offense, or defense. Supporting STRS management was Cliffwater's CEO who potentially exposed privileged executive session information, during the very public Board meeting.  Time will tell if there will be any consequences. The presenters must have been on to something.
Dean Dennis is a retired teacher from Cincinnati and a strong advocate for the restoration of teachers’ earned benefits, particularly their COLA, from STRS Ohio. He is also a noted leader for the Facebook group Ohio STRS Member Only Forum.
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