Wednesday, December 29, 2021

STRS: The whole iceberg this time or just the tip?

From  John Curry

December 29, 2021
This morning I received this highly educational email from fellow STRS Watchdog and Member Only Forum Moderator Bob Buerkle. Here is what he had to say. Bob has a way of cutting through the legalese and turning it into language that you and I can understand. Please be seated before reading!
Bob Buerkle to John Curry
December 29, 2021
In the 2021 STRS CAFR that was released last night I found the actual cost of the added debt that STRS has perpetrated on our Members. This appears on page 72 of the CAFR [Comprehensive Annual Financial Report]. The lowering of the "Discount Rate" from 7.45% to 7% added $4,433,797,000 to our debt. Said another way, STRS removed $4,433,797,000 that could have been used for retiree COLA's and Contribution reductions for active teachers. This is the third such reduction in the "Discount Rate" since 2012, when STRS began lowering the rate from the 8% level that had been successfully used since 2003. Since 2012, approximately $20 billion dollars has been taken(stolen) from retirees and active teachers by STRS Management and approved by OEA driven Board Members. All of this was done to make it look like Management was rescuing the pension system from the losses that they themselves had been responsible for due to their own actions of mismanagement.
The STRS Actuary recently reported that the cost of providing a permanent 2% COLA to retirees was about $13.8 billion dollars. The year before, when the "Discount Rate" was 7.45% the same permanent 2% COLA would have been $1 billion dollars less expensive.
Everything that STRS Management has done in the last 10-years has added debt and taken away benefits, all to make them look good.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Think OEA doesn't try to control the STRS Board elections? Think again! Gary Allen sure didn't try to hide his tactics, did he? I've never seen any evidence that OEA wants its membership to even KNOW anything about other candidates, just theirs. Read on.

Thanks to John Curry for finding this OEA flashback on my blog. It had apparently been shared with a few others before it ended up in our hands.  

From Gary Allen, April 1, 2004
Subject: Gary Allen's letter to Local Presidents, etc.
To: All Local Presidents
Cc: All OEA Staff; District Leaders; Exec Committee
Subject: STRS Board Election
April 1, 2004
Dear Local Association President,
As you know, the Ohio Education Association has endorsed Eugene Norris for election to the State Teachers Retirement Board. As a member of the STRS Board, Eugene has demonstrated his leadership skills and his commitment to the welfare of public education employees. The upcoming STRS election will determine the Board's approach to securing the long term viability of STRS health care in the midst of a national health care crisis. Our members' votes give them a powerful voice in how STRS will handle this and other critical issues in the coming years.
I am reaching out to all Local Association Presidents to address a serious concern which has been brought to the Ohio Education Association's attention. We have been informed that supporters of Eugene's opponent have secured access, apparently through local Superintendents, to school district mailboxes, electronic mail and other school communication systems, to campaign for Eugene's opponent in the name of the local school district's Superintendent. These Superintendents are conveying campaign materials to employees under their authority, through the same information systems used to convey official administrative directives. This opportunistic practice abuses the employer-employee relationship. The use of official authority to influence the personal decisions of subordinates takes shameful advantage of our members. I am not alone in my opinion that such tactics are coercive and unethical.
It is equally troubling that the distributed materials mask the agenda of Eugene's opponent (himself a school superintendent) with empty rhetoric. Our members deserve to know that the candidate touted by these Superintendents is supported by retiree groups seeking to reduce the number of active teachers on the STRS Board, and to restore past benefit levels-a move likely to damage the health care plan's long term viability-and require active members to shoulder the financial burden for the increased benefits without ensuring that they will have adequate pension and health care benefits when they retire. Our peers in these districts will not learn these facts from the materials pressed upon them by some Superintendents.
As a Local Association President, you are in a key position to correct the misinformation by communicating with each and every one of your Local Association's members. Discuss the upcoming STRS elections individually or in group meetings with members. Please share copies of my letters regarding Eugene with your members. The Ohio Education Association has additional information available for your use. Please call 1-800-282-1500, extension 3069, and these materials will be immediately provided to you. Also, Eugene has established a website ( which details his objectives, his experience and his accomplishments. Share this website with your colleagues. We will serve our members well by immediately placing these resources into their hands so that they may make an informed decision regarding their future STRS benefits.
Thank you for your assistance in this process.
Very truly yours,
Gary Allen, President
Ohio Education Association
[Note: Their candidate, Eugene Norris, was one of the six STRS Board members who were convicted of ethics violations in Franklin County Municipal Court in 2006, including former OEA president Mike Billirakis and other avid OEA people.]

Rudy Fichtenbaum: I think there are some valuable lessons for us in this article: Yes, Social Media Can Help With Real-World Organizing

From Rudy Fichtenbaum

December 28, 2021
Jacobin Magazine
Yes, Social Media Can Help With Real-World Organizing
We can’t change the world just by posting on social media. But as the 2018 red state teachers’ strikes show, if organizers make strategic choices about their online organizing, social media can be used to build mass militant actions like strikes.

Striking Arizona teachers march through downtown Phoenix on their way to the Arizona State Capitol on April 26, 2018. (Ralph Freso / Getty Images)
In the wake of the 2011 uprisings from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park, pundits declared that “the revolution will be tweeted.” Very online leftists calling for a new general strike over Twitter every few months aside, this techno-utopian faith in the unprecedented movement-building powers of new information and communication technologies like social media has given way, in many corners, to pessimism. Digital activism, we are now told, leads to online echo chambers and systematically bolsters right-wing forces.
The problem with most of these arguments is that they assume that digital tools will necessarily have a certain type of impact on politics. But this technological determinism overlooks a crucial fact: what matters is not just how much social media is being used by social movements but how it is being used.
To explore these dynamics, I studied the 2018 educators’ strikes in Oklahoma and Arizona, first as an on-the-ground researcher, then by interviewing leaders and participants, and finally by systematically analyzing the contents of the viral Facebook groups educators used to build these unprecedented mobilizations. What I found surprised me about how these tools were used to build these strikes — and forced me to adjust some of my basic assumptions about what effective labor organizing looks like.
Mobilizing vs. Organizing
If you had asked me in 2017 whether it was possible to organize a statewide labor strike over social media, I would have confidently declared that it was impossible. Strikes are just too high risk and require too much proactive, personal outreach to skeptical coworkers, rooted in real relationship building that can become the basis for convincing skeptical coworkers to take risky and oftentimes scary acts, for online tools to be of much help.
But events forced me to change my mind. Spring 2018 witnessed the first US strike wave in over four decades. Confounding all expectations, these actions, beginning in West Virginia, erupted in Republican-dominated states with anti-union right-to-work laws, bans on public-sector strikes, and electorates that voted for Donald Trump.
These actions garnered widespread public support and positive headlines. What most people are less aware of is the fact that each of 2018’s largest teachers strikes — West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona — were initiated through rank-and-file educator Facebook groups. It turns out that social media can be used effectively for labor actions. But doing so depends on the strategic choices of protest leaders.
"Social media was remarkably successful at energizing educators. Yet Facebook groups on their own did not serve as vehicles to target and persuade teachers skeptical of striking"
While social media in the 2018 Oklahoma strike was used just for mobilizing — activating the existing supporters of a cause — in Arizona it was also used for organizing, developing wider layers of new leaders oriented toward winning over the unpersuaded.
In all regions of what I’ve called the Red State Revolt,”  social media tools like Facebook clearly showed their potential to build mass mobilization. But why was the work stoppage in Arizona, despite unfolding in a less favorable political context stronger than the strike in Oklahoma? In the former, 91.18 percent of educators struck, compared to 72.06 in the latter. Making sense of this divergence requires examining how leadership strategy shapes digital technologies’ impact on movement outcomes.

Figure 1. Percent of public school educators that struck 
Numerous scholars have shown how digital tools lower mobilization and communication costs, creating the potential for a movement to rest on weak organizational foundations. Because movements can now use digital tools to communicate and to call protests, it is now possible for them to rapidly scale up without leaning on the support of strong organizations built deliberately over time and rooted in strong interpersonal relationships between movement activists. The experience of the 2018 strikes, however, suggests that this kind of quickly built, large-but-shallow organizing is a potentiality, but not an inevitability.
From February 28 onward, in the wake of the successful action in West Virginia, both Arizona and Oklahoma witnessed a rapid, digitally enabled push to strike. A key reason why digital rank-and-file activists were so influential was that unions in both states were so weak. In Arizona and Oklahoma, neither the government nor most educators recognized the unions as the educators’ legitimate collective representative. Instead, a vast majority of insurgent school employees joined the rank-and-file Facebook groups that launched their strikes, Arizona Educators United (AEU) and Oklahoma Teacher Walkout — The Time is Now (OTW).
But whereas the Facebook administrators of AEU used social media to promote the high degree of collective organization necessary for a successful work stoppage, such an approach was lacking in Oklahoma. Mobilization without organizationas we saw in Oklahoma, was circumvented in Arizona through several key organizing factors: first, promotion of collective leadership of the organizing for a strike; second, organization beyond a Facebook group; and third, an escalated action campaign.Scholars have examined how digital technologies enable mass-movement leadership by inexperienced individuals, since leaders no longer need to be tied deeply to movement organizations like they were in the past. This is often framed as a positive development, since a much wider range of people can now become protest leaders. Yet the digital affordance of individual leadership can undermine movement efficacy, at least for certain types of protests.
Scholars have examined how digital technologies enable mass-movement leadership by inexperienced individuals, since leaders no longer need to be tied deeply to movement organizations like they were in the past. This is often framed as a positive development, since a much wider range of people can now become protest leaders. Yet the digital affordance of individual leadership can undermine movement efficacy, at least for certain types of protests.

Teachers and demonstrators hold signs during a rally inside the Oklahoma State Capitol on April 3, 2018. (Scott Heins / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
In Oklahoma, OTW’s founder, Alberto Morejon, opted to run a solo operation, personally administering the Facebook group on his own and picking settings that enabled only him to make posts to the group — other members could only comment. When asked about this decision to individually run the group, Morejon said this ensured that the information provided on the page would be “reliable and objective.” He also felt that he had neither the experience nor the free time to oversee a more collective project.
In contrast, though Arizona’s Facebook group was also initially founded by just one individual, teacher Rebecca Garelli, she did not believe that she would be able to productively manage and lead the page on her own. Through a voluntary self-selection process over Facebook on Sunday, March 4, the eight leaders of Arizona Educators United — none of whom had met before — constituted themselves as the AEU leadership team. AEU leaders from across the state coordinated with each other through a Facebook chat, as well as periodic conference calls.
"It was through digital tools that the Arizona teachers union promoted targeted, in-person outreach, and therefore built a more powerful strike."
Though the strikes in Arizona and Oklahoma confirm that social media drastically lowers mobilizing and communication costs, they also show that costs can remain high enough to pose difficulties for solo organizers to build collective actions like strikes — even for purely digital tasks.
Striking Arizona teachers march through downtown Phoenix on their way to the Arizona State Capitol on April 26, 2018. (Ralph Freso / Getty Images) and Oklahoma confirm that social media drastically lowers mobilizing and communication costs, they also show that costs can remain high enough to pose difficulties for solo organizers to build collective actions like strikes — even for purely digital tasks.
With tens of thousands of members and hundreds of thousands of comments to moderate, being an admin was costly. Morejon explained that the process of accepting member requests into the Facebook group, compiling the list of which school districts were set to strike, making posts, and moderating the Facebook discussion was “like having another full-time job.” Organizers described a similar workload in Arizona.
Yet the fact that AEU had eight leaders, each providing roughly the same level of labor, gave them a significantly greater communication and organizational capacity than in Oklahoma. As seen in figure 2, Arizona’s admins had a daily post average of 16.5 — versus 8.2 in Oklahoma. And even more important than the quantity of their digital output was its content: Arizona’s leaders focused on encouraging educators to win over their coworkers and the community to support a strike, while Morejon focused primarily on agitating those who already supported the movement.

Figure 2. Number of posts and comments
The second mechanism of divergence was that Arizona, unlike Oklahoma, used online tools to not just promote mobilization but also to build nondigital organization. As Jane McAlevey has argued, while mobilizing — rallying an existing base of support — on its own can often be effective for calling actions like rallies or marches, it tends to fall short for actions like strikes. Unlike other common forms of protest, the success of strikes depends on winning over a majority of individuals who are brought together not by shared politics but rather by shared employment. This puts a premium on convincing people who don’t already agree with the movement — and in identifying and developing new layers of leaders whose accumulated respect at work makes them uniquely capable of winning over waverers to join a high-risk action.
Oklahoma and Arizona’s divergent digital strategies illustrate the differences between mobilizing and organizing models, as outlined in figure 3. Because Oklahoma’s group relied entirely on Facebook and didn’t create any organizational apparatus, it was unable to target and focus on winning over hesitant schools or educators.

Figure 3. Mobilizing and organizing models in Oklahoma and Arizona
Oklahoma’s work stoppage was built primarily through social media and was a prototypical example of mobilization without organization, with the OTW Facebook group almost overnight becoming the central forum through which the work stoppage was initiated. Yet after the April 2 walkout date was set in the first week of March, the group served mostly as a communications hub. This approach was in many ways remarkably successful at energizing educators.
Yet OTW did not function as a vehicle to consciously target and persuade skeptics. Social media, on its own, proved to be a relatively ineffective tool for targeted efforts to win over the unconvinced.
As seen in figure 4 [See article], Morejon’s efforts were largely oriented to providing information about schools and the political situation and getting OTW’s members to engage in digital activities such as filling out online surveys. In contrast, these tasks were the focus of far fewer of AEU’s admin posts. This divergence was even starker when it came to organizational and in-person protest activities.
The fact that OTW was far more internally oriented to digital activities than AEU contributed to Oklahoma educators’ total digital engagement being significantly higher, in both aggregate and proportion, than their peers’ in Arizona, as seen in figures 2 and 5. [See article]
AEU used social media to establish a network of two thousand school-site representatives, called site liaisons, charged with organizing their schools and acting as intermediaries between the top AEU leadership and the majority of educators. AEU leader Dylan Wegela underlined the pivotal role of the site liaisons for the movement’s success:
It turned out that the liaisons were the most important part of the movement. They organized their schools, got a sense of where people were at, and served as the channel of communication between the rank and file and our AEU leadership team. We couldn’t have done any of this without them.
Read the rest of the article here.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Top 200 Salaries at STRS for 2020

From John Curry

December 27, 2021

Thanks to the Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague we now have the Top 200 Salaries for STRS employees for Fiscal Year 2020.

From Rudy Fichtenbaum: An eye-opening video all teachers need to see, and the key to saving our pension

December 27, 2021

And what is this key to saving our pension? Teacher (active and retired) activism! AND two more things: (1)  informed voting in STRS elections (often meaning, for one thing, why OEA-backed candidates are almost always NOT the people who have your best interests in mind) and (2) being willing to protest at the Ohio Statehouse, if necessary. 
Where can OEA members (and others) get information about candidates other than those OEA throws in your face at YOUR expense (like $150,000 of your money for the upcoming STRS Board election)? Two sources come to mind: the Facebook group Ohio STRS Member Only Forum, open to all STRS members, currently over 18,400 members strong) and Kathie Bracy's Blog, which contains plenty of information about where your hard-earned money is going (probably not where you think). If you can't remember the name of this blog, Google "STRS blog". It usually comes right up. 
Here is the link to the video that Rudy feels is well worth watching; it is a real eye-opener:
If Ohio's teachers don't save their pension before STRS squanders it all away, who WILL save it?
Yes, those people you trusted at STRS are squandering your money, getting rich on your dollar, but not making you rich or even comfortable in your retirement. They are stealing BILLIONS from you and making active teachers work all those extra years -- for THEMSELVES, NOT for those hard working teachers, all the while stealing our COLA from every one of us.
We're all in this together; a few people can't do it alone -- it takes ALL of us to save our pension. Wake up, people -- STRS is robbing you BLIND! It's happening NOW. Remember, STRS is the ONLY pension system of the Big Five that is NOT providing a COLA, yet they brag all the time about how they're raking in tons of money. Where is it going? Into THEIR pockets, not yours! Now do yourself a favor and go back and click on that video.
Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Wright State University. He is an elected member of the STRS Ohio Board, filling a retiree seat since September 2021. He and Wade Steen are the two outspoken Board members who are pushing for reform on behalf of both active and retired teachers, constantly bucking OEA-backed Board members who follow the dictates of OEA instead of advocating solely for the STRS stakeholders.
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