Saturday, May 20, 2023

Joe Lupo raises some interesting questions concerning the appointment of more than one STRS Board member

From Joe Lupo

May 20, 2023
FirstEnergy, DeWine's Election Interference In Attempting To Remove Wade Steen Has Put Life Back Into Present And Previous Concerns Regarding Other Appointees
We all have pretty much figured out that Bill Neville lobbied either directly or indirectly for his friend Claudia Herrington's appointment to the STRS Board in 2020. She is appointed by the Ohio Speaker of the House and Senate President. She was appointed by individuals no longer in those leadership positions. As a point of information, two legislators have stated that she can't be removed during the term of her appointment and replaced. I mention this only because it directly conflicts with DeWine's statement that appointees serve at the pleasure of the governor. Clearly, somebody is confused.
A question that remains unanswered is, was the appointment of Alison Lanza Falls by the Ohio State Treasurer also a result of Neville and/or the STRS outside lobbyist exerting their influence/pressure for her appointment? This issue has raised concerns of many members that feel her performance and her voting record, much like Claudia Herrington's, is because of an obvious allegiance to Bill Neville.
That brings us to DeWine's illegitimate appointment of Brent Bishop, now known as "The $100,000.00 Man". We have a very good idea on why and how he was able to sit at the Board table last Thursday. Because we as members have had only one opportunity to witness his performance. Any judgement regarding Bishop would be premature. A verdict will be held in abeyance until a later date based on the legal challenge to this Board-appointed seat.

The Toledo Blade on Wade Steen's ouster from STRS Board

Editorial: Bonus battle postponed

The Blade Editorial Board

May 20, 2023
The State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio board may think it can dodge the controversy over the removal of a reform-oriented board member and paying huge bonuses to undeserving staff by postponing the decision.
That’s what it did on Thursday when the STRS trustees held its eagerly awaited meeting in Columbus.
STRS Trustees made no decision on controversial investment staff bonuses totaling more than $11 million. That explosive issue will provide the fireworks for the June board meeting, and the issue isn’t going away.
The May meeting was papered with teacher protest signs asking “where’s Wade?”
Wade Steen, the first major critic of STRS investment strategy, appointed by Gov. John Kasich and reappointed by Gov. Mike DeWine, was dumped from the board by Mr. DeWine over howls of outrage from teachers.
The law says Mr. Steen was appointed to a term which expires in 2024. His attorney Norman A. Abood of Toledo warned the STRS Board any action taken was “ineffective regardless of the presence of a quorum.”
Mr. Steen intends to force a court ruling on whether the governor’s appointee serves solely at the governor’s pleasure. Mr. Steen consistently criticized payment of large bonuses to investment staff when STRS retirees received no COLA.
Mr. Steen’s skepticism on STRS asset values was based on solid evidence provided by transparent markets.
As The Blade pointed out during last year’s STRS bonus battle (“Ohio pension results hinge on private equity,” Aug. 21), all Ohio pensions including STRS reported huge private investment gains when its outside investment managers were valued on Wall Street billions of dollars less.
Large bonuses to pension investment staff based on fictitious asset values is a cruel joke to STRS beneficiaries forced to pay more and accept less to bailout its retirement fund.
Bonuses should also be an outrage to taxpayers when they discover STRS is working with lawmakers in an attempt to raise schools’ contribution to the pension from 14 percent of salary to 18 percent.
Under current investment strategy any extra taxpayer funds will go straight to Wall Street. In the last two years STRS has paid outside fund managers $504,998,393. Claimed asset values have fallen by nearly 10 percent and the near $10 billion decline is despite make-believe asset valuations.
The entire debate over STRS bonuses ignores (“Act on STRS Audit,” Jan. 2) the finding of State Auditor Keith Faber’s special audit, showing a low cost S&P 500 index would have returned $90 billion more since 2009 than STRS current investment strategy.
Moreover, as the STRS compensation consultant made clear, index investing eliminates bonuses and the need to compete for staff with Wall Street.
The STRS Board passed a statement of investment beliefs as called for in its recent fiduciary audit. The beliefs are basically boilerplate language about prudent financial management.
But acting upon the recommendation recalls the lack of action regarding bonus benchmarks in the 2006 fiduciary audit.
That document said that staff bonuses should reflect exceptional performance that can be easily documented. The recommended bonus benchmark was the Russell 3000 total market index plus 5 percent.
By that measure, STRS would never have paid bonuses. If the fund had been invested to minimize costs in an index fund rather than maximize gain with Wall Street, annual COLA’s would never have stopped.
Read the rest of the article here

Dan MacDonald and Rob Walters report on the May 18, 2023 STRS Board meeting

From Dan MacDonald

May 20, 2023

1% Pension Cost-Of-Living Increase Approved
Rob Walters and Dan MacDonald attended the May 18, 2023 STRS Board meeting. The meeting opened with a greeting to new Board member Brent Bishop [boos and “Where’s Wade?” chant from audience]. After minutes approval, the Finance Department went over Ohio Law and Board Policies regarding the FY24 Budget proposal leading to the Sustainable Benefit Enhancement Plan [SBEP]. Outside actuarial consultant Cheiron re-presented its SBEP. STOP.
Board member Sellers asked why Wade Steen wasn’t present. Executive Director Neville replied that the governor made a new appointment and that was all he knew. Reformers pressed for reasons and info leaks. Fichtenbaum said it was shocking that the governor’s office would check attendance records of DeWine’s appointees to dozens of boards and commissions and stated, “This does not pass the smell test.” [By the way, Board member Herrington, an appointee, was absent for the morning session.]
Ultimately Cheiron presented using live modeling. Board members could ask what ifs, and calculations were drawn immediately. Ultimately, a one-time COLA of 1% and an extension of 34 years for full retirement until 7/31/2028 was passed. Total cost estimated at $325,000,000. STRS’s actuary, Brian Grinnell, then presented on OPERS, SERS, OP&F, and Ohio State Patrol and their funding plans.
Thirteen people addressed the Board during Public Participation. Seven addressed COLA. Three addressed SBEP. Two addressed the recent STRS election and sudden appointment. One addressed the Carlyle Group’s negative environmental impact on the world and STRS’s private equity holdings of the stock.
A two-plus hour Executive Session/lunch followed. After this break, Outside consultant AON presented on STRS’s Performance Based Incentive Plan. He mentioned that no incentive plan is identical to another, but each needs to attract, motivate, and retain top-caliber professionals; provide competitive pay; drive long-term investment performance; and be fair, reasonable and relatively easy to understand and administer. AON pointed out that STRS’s document is not relatively easy to understand or administer. He suggested five changes. 
AON pointed out that public investment departments are in challenging situations but do not control the market. AON reminded all that the current return is important, but long-term return is the most important.
The Investment Department then presented for adoption the Statement of Investment Beliefs. The vote 7-4, with the reformist all voting “NEA.” Fichtenbaum pointed out the lack of meeting obligations to members to pay benefits promised or a passive investment strategy appears nowhere. The reformists think these two types of statements should be included in the beliefs.
April’s preliminary total fund return was a positive 0.86%. Net Return for FY23 positive 5.19%. Total investment assets ended April at approximately $88.7 billion, higher by 1 billion in FY23.
Neville reported on 4 areas, two are: STRS supports the repeal of the Windfall Elimination Provision {WEP] and, 22, retirement applications are up almost 53%. Along with Neville’s report was a Legislative Update which included a future lobbying effort to increase Employer Contribution to 18%. 
Following the Legislative Update there was a Member’s Benefit Report. Information on the change to CVS from Express Scripts will commence in the third quarter. The health fund, which is totally separated from the General Fund, is 230% funded. Board member Foreman asked how some of those dollars could be used to offset those that are under 65 and retired.
The meeting ended after Routine Matters. The Ad Hoc Governance Committee then met and will interview, in June, six consultants for a Board Governance Consultant. The committee will interview, starting noon, on Wednesday, June 14. The next Board meeting will be Thursday, June 15.
Rob Walters & Dan MacDonald.

Dan MacDonald to STRS Board 5/18/2023: Do not have a fiasco like last year causing the final loss to be substantially bigger than what was first reported.

From Dan MacDonald

May 20, 2023

Public Participation at STRS:  Beware, Government Default, Use Common Sense

Good morning, STRS Board. I am Dan MacDonald, an STRS retiree with 38 plus years of service. I am also the Executive Director of Local 279R, North East Ohio AFT retirees.  

Let’s start with the Budget’s compensation line which shows a 1% decrease in compensation.  I am sure it is correct. I need to point out, and remind the Board, that compensation line for STRS staff is actually up. Last year’s Budget had a one-time $2.1 million added for compensation because of a 27th check. So, the decrease of $618,100 had only a little to do with reduction of 17 staff and lots to do with not having a $2.1 million dollars in the compensation line this year. I would hope that my idea of transparency might some day match yours. There should be no merit-based raise. 

The Sustainable Benefit Enhancement Plan, SBEP 

Three fiscal integrity tests were developed by Cheiron to determine moneys available in the proposed ’24 budget. Outcome: Test one, budget amount available, zero dollars. Test two, budget amount available, zero dollars. Test three, budget amount available, $300 million dollars. Fail one, fail all, budget amount available, zero dollars. Cheiron then proposed that if the SBEP is zero, a de minimis enhancement would not materially impair the fiscal integrity of the system. Huh? This year, budget dollars available: $830,000,000. During last month's board meeting, the investment department reported the General Fund was $500,000 above where the General Fund was July 1, 2022. 

STRS Board Policies, under Funding, states that “Funding Objectives shall include 100% funding” with a sub paragraph – “At 85% or greater, the Board may consider changes that in the determination of the Board’s actuary do not materially impair the fiscal integrity of the system.”

In my mind, $830 million is taking the general fund in the wrong direction. You are the stewards of the pension, I would hope that a de minimis enhancement is taken off the table by your established Board Policies and common sense and your votes, and that we all pray that the federal government does not default, and that the markets improve, so that next year, at this time, some replacement of lost benefits to actives and retirees can happen, and, that the overall life of the fund has substantially improved and not further soured.  To me, this makes more sense.

In conclusion, with the PBI policy, change the date of awards to when the final closure of FY24 is finalized. Do not have a fiasco like last year causing the final loss to be substantially bigger than what was first reported. [We will see how this worked out next month; Board had voted BEFORE my speech.]

Bob Buerkle: STRS Integrity and the demise of the COLA

Bob Buerkle's speech to STRS Board

May 18, 2023

STRS Integrity and the demise of the COLA

Friday, May 19, 2023

Robin Rayfield, executive director of ORTA, outlines the reasons the governor's sudden firing of Wade Steen from the STRS Board are highly suspicious; plus a word of warning for STRS management

From the ORTA monthly newsletter

May 18, 2023
Wow! What a difference 1 month can make. At the last publication of the ORTA newsletter (mid April 2023) we were waiting on the STRS board election results. ORTA’s endorsed candidate for an active spot on the board was Pat Davidson and he was matched against the OEA-endorsed and STRS incumbent candidate Arthur Lard.
The OEA pulled out all the stops, spending tremendous amounts of money to win the seat for Mr. Lard. STRS did its best to win the seat for Mr. Lard, promoting the ‘excellence’ of the board during Mr. Lard’s tenure. In the end, ORTA, the Facebook group STRS Members Only, The Facebook group STRS Watchdogs, The Ohio Federation of Teachers, and Save Ohio STRS all supported the winning candidate, Pat Davidson.
Mr. Davidson’s win marked the 5th straight election at STRS that saw the STRS incumbent, supported by OEA, lose to a reform-minded candidate. That would seem to be an overwhelming mandate for change. It would make one think that surely STRS would pivot towards a reform agenda. Well, not so much, unfortunately. STRS instead used its lobbyist to influence the governor to attempt to remove his appointee (Wade Steen) and replace him with a person that is a well-known private equity and real estate investor. The firing of Wade Steen (which ORTA believes to be illegal) is suspicious for several reasons:
• Mr. Steen is one of the original reform-minded candidates on the STRS board. Wade has challenged the payment of bonuses and the ridiculous spending of the STRS management.\
• Did STRS know the results of the election before they were announced, and ask the governor to remove an outspoken critic of the STRS management? It seems strange that the governor would wait until the reform minded candidates won a majority of seats on the board before making this political blunder.
• Why have politicians abandoned teachers? Is it because the OEA and Wall St. pay so much in political donations to politicians in Ohio that they will continue to move the goal posts every time teachers score and election victory? With Householder in deep trouble for taking bribes and illegal donations from dark money sources on Wall St., and DeWine, STRS and Householder using the same lobbyist, a connection between politicians in Ohio and Wall St.
• Perhaps the most suspicious aspect of this move by DeWine is the timing. It’s reported by STRS management that the election results were known by STRS on Tuesday May 2nd. Mr. Steen was asked to resign on Thursday May 4, 2023. Apparently, STRS used its political influence between Tuesday and Thursday to coerce Mr. Steen into resigning. Remember, the results were known on Tuesday but were not announced until Saturday May 6, 2023. 
Even though STRS management is attempting to hold onto the $90 billion pension system and will do anything to maintain influence with their Wall St. buddies, their days are numbered. STRS management has lost the confidence of active contributors and retirees alike.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Marilyn Peacock to STRS Board: You are supposed to work for us. Please start voting like you do.

Marilyn Peacock’s speech to the STRS Board 
May 18, 2023
Good morning.
My name is Marilyn Peacock. I taught 34 years, seven at third grade, three at high school special education and 24 of middle school science and social studies. I taught at Rittman Exempted Village Schools.
I am here today to share my thoughts and feelings about STRS. For many years, I believed everything that STRS told me. I trusted them and I looked forward to my retirement. Then we lost all that money in ENRON and terrible real estate purchases along with lavish spending by the staff/board. 
I went from paying 9% to 14% each paycheck. Then STRS changed our retirement from 30 and out to 35. We used to get 88% of our retirement if we worked 35 years, and 100% if we worked 38 years. Now we paid more and got less each additional year we worked. I retired in May of 2019. I was told I would receive my first COLA in June of 2022. I still have never received a COLA.
As soon as I retired, COLA was permanently suspended. I am supposed to receive my one-time COLA this June. How disappointing. Instead of tightening your belts to cut costs and restore our lost benefits, you continue to throw our money away on risky ventures. If our money had been kept in the stock market alone, we would have 90 billion more dollars than we have today. Instead, you reward the investment staff with lavish bonuses. Please stop the bonuses and put all of our money back into proven ventures.
I have worked for five years trying to get people on the board who work for us and not for hedge funds and themselves. When we finally did this we had the rug pulled out from under us. The governor asked Wade Steen to resign. When Wade refused to do this, the governor appointed his replacement (illegally) without the legislators' approval. He did this the day before Pat Davidson was elected by a landslide. How did he know Pat would win the election before the votes were counted? This whole situation seems wrong to me.
You are supposed to work for us. Please start voting like you do. No raises, no bonuses, no new hires. Cut your expenses until the teachers are back to 10%, 30 years and yearly COLAs. 

Cathy Steinhauser to STRS Board: It is the FIDUCIARY duty of the STRS Board and investment group to take care of the teachers

Cathy Steinhauser's speech to the STRS Board

May 18, 2023

Dean Dennis: Questions surrounding the recent Board election are creating suspicion among STRS members

Dean Dennis' speech to the STRS Board

May 18, 2023 

May 18, 2023 -  Dean Dennis, Retiree from Cincinnati Public Schools

To the properly seated members of the Board, how are you going to conduct business when every vote you take can be challenged as to its validity? You certainly need to hire your own independent legal counsel. You also need to make sure the person who ratted out and slandered Board Member Steen isn't employed by STRS. Our members just voted, providing you with a mandate for reform, then some coward using their political power ran to the Governor's office to usurp their will. This person could be anyone, but you need to make sure it isn't a person you supervise. If you find that it is, they need to be terminated. Someone went behind your back and blatantly lied to the Governor's office.  Wade Steen did not miss 3 meetings in 6 months. The minutes make that clear. Someone is making the Governor look like a fool. Let's make sure we aren't paying their salary.

The Governor has enough problems with misinformation. Mr. Steen didn't serve the Governor at will; therefore, the Governor cannot simply replace him. Board Member Steen is serving an appointed four-year term. Ohio codes are not ambiguous.

Board members, here is another issue. Concerns are being raised that we have a part-time, paid lobbyist (one that has earned a quarter-of-a-million dollars from STRS over a four year period) and this lobbyist at one time was a lobbyist for a charter school. Apparently, this lobbyist also lobbied for First Energy during the time period when the news media was trying to tie the Governor to the First Energy scandal. News accounts state that the Governor appointed this lobbyist, our current lobbyist, to a committee. Your concern should be this: members are asking if this lobbyist went to the governor on behalf of STRS to unseat your colleague, Wade Steen. Regardless, what has this lobbyist done for members? 

Lastly, the governor is making press releases stating he replaced Mr. Steen before the Saturday, May 6th election results in order to prevent the appearance of election interference. So, members of the Board, I think it is only fair to members to have management document as to when the votes were counted. Were they counted on May 6, or prior to May 6? Thank you. A lot of members are suspicious. Find out.

Suzanne Laird to STRS Board: Something is rotten in the state of DeWine, and it will drive teachers out of the state of Ohio.

Suzanne Laird’s speech to the STRS Board 

May 18, 2023

Good Morning, Members of MY Board :

Why would anyone choose to be a teacher in the state of Ohio?

After working 35 years, giving 14 percent of every paycheck to a pension system that cannot seem to turn a profit, a teacher in Ohio will sign a (quote) “binding” contract with STRS, only to have it negated, leaving that Ohio teacher without a COLA.

IF you choose to teach in Ohio, and you require childcare, it certainly isn’t on-site child care, subsidized by others.

IF you choose to teach in Ohio, and you have time to go to a gym, it certainly isn’t an on-site, ten dollar-a-month gym.

And IF you have time for lunch, your cafeteria is one where you serve duty, supervising students while returning phone calls and texts to parents, maybe getting a bite of food you paid full price for.

Why would anyone teach in Ohio, a state where Governor DeWine capriciously recalls a pension Board member, on a whim, just before an election announcement, nullifying your vote?

And replaces that honorable Board member with a deep-pocketed crony, one with expertise not in education, but real estate. Well, perhaps the realtor can sell this Taj Mahal. Even the Minister of Propaganda cannot convince us there was no collusion between this institution and the one just down the street, given the “coincidental” timing.

Why pay the Propaganda Minister $195,000, when the head honcho writes a piece for the local newspaper himself, gaslighting the public? Why would a teacher in Ohio trust STRS Board members who do not raise questions regarding this latest example of corruption? Why would a teacher bother to ever vote again? This Board may not have control over other crooked chambers, but you eleven hold the fate of future educators in your hands.

When teachers across Ohio see their Board members voting, year after year, for raises and bonuses, but not voting to alleviate the injustices done to teachers, it is no wonder they will go elsewhere.

Something is rotten in the state of DeWine, and it will drive teachers out of the state of Ohio.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Robin Rayfield: Updated news regarding Wade Steen's appointment to the STRS Board

From Robin Rayfield, Executive Director

Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association (ORTA)

May 17, 2023
As you may be aware, the reform-minded people on the STRS Board won the majority of the seats at this spring's election. Prior to the announcement of Pat Davidson as the winner, Governor DeWine attempted to remove Wade Steen from his seat on the STRS board. Mr. Steen has refused to resign and plans to fight DeWine's attempt to remove him from the Board.
The following exchanges are emails between Wade Steen and STRS executive director Bill Neville; an email from Mr. Steen to STRS chair Correthers and vice chair Dale Price, Attorney General Yost's response to Mr. Steen's emails to STRS chair and executive director; and Wade Steen's attorney's response to Attorney General Yost.

ORTA launches legal fund to challenge the governor's removal of Wade Steen from the STRS Board

From Dean Dennis

May 17, 2023
Gongwer - A Capitol Square Publication
Group Launches Legal Defense Fund Amid STRS Appointment Dust-Up
As Gov. Mike DeWine's newest appointee to the State Teachers Retirement System board preps for his first meeting this week, money is being raised to potentially challenge his appointment.
The Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association announced it has launched a formal legal fund with an eye to challenge Gov. DeWine's recent removal of Wade Steen from the board.
The governor earlier this month swapped out Mr. Steen, who was first appointed in 2016, for G. Brent Bishop, arguing that doing so fell within the governor's statutory authority. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, May 8, 2023)
But the change kicked up a legal clash, with Mr. Steen and the association both contending only a court can remove a gubernatorial appointee from that board under that relevant Revised Code section.
To that end, ORTA announced the debut of its "pension defense fund," which it says will be used to "develop resources for legal and professional help in fighting for Ohio teachers."
"ORTA's Executive Council has determined that the first actions from the fund will be to use fund monies to help Wade Steen," the group's announcement reads. "The monies will go towards the legal expenses he might incur in challenging his improper removal by the Governor."
Key lawmakers on the pension front, meanwhile, are staying out of the fight for now, although they continue to receive earfuls from concerned members of the system.
Sen. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton), who chairs the Ohio Retirement Study Council, said when asked he defers to the governor's reading of the statute.
And Rep. Bob Young (R-North Canton), chair of the House Pensions Committee, said Tuesday he had yet to delve into the conflict in detail.
The full STRS board is expected to meet Thursday for a regular meeting – its first since Mr. Bishop's appointment.
At that meeting, members are expected to be briefed by consultant McLagan about the board's controversial performance-based incentive policy.
A draft presentation showed the firm found the program is "generally aligned with competitive market practices," but recommended a handful of tweaks. (Board Meeting Materials)
STRS leaders last week defended the bonus structure as sound strategy in response to questions from the Retirement Study Council. The program is being eyed for a $2.6 million or 30.6% increase in the system's proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, May 11, 2023)
Watchdogs Note: Donate here

Email response from Governor DeWine's office

May 17, 2023

A message one STRS/MOF member (and no doubt others) received from the governor's office in response to their email message to the governor:

James Carr explains in simple terms why teachers are basically being fleeced

From James Carr

May 16, 2023

Why are teachers paying 14% of their salaries to STRS and working for 35 years only to retire on a fixed income without a COLA?

The answer is  simple. We are supporting a huge number of dependents.  

The STRS staff of employees need our money to sustain their extravagant lifestyles. All of those bonuses, perks and amenities need to be paid for.

The politicians need our money. The donations (dark money) STRS/OEA provides are helping them to maintain their political power base. Just ask Mike DeWine, he loves us to death!

The Wall Street money managers need our money. The hidden fees provide them with millions of dollars so that they can maintain their financial empires.

So we need to keep working, and sacrificing, and doing without. Until we find a way to shed these dependents (parasites), we are never going to thrive.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

STRS And The Question - Was Billy (Neville) "on the farm?"

From John Curry

May 16, 2023 

Interesting connections - interesting people - interesting spending!
QUESTION - Was Billy (Neville) also "on the farm?"

According to Bill Neville, everything is just peachy at STRS; but wait till you read the REAL story by Joe Lupo below this one!


STRS director: Teacher 'pension reform is working.' Board balancing needs of retirees, future

"Because STRS Ohio pours billions of dollars into Ohio’s economy each year, a strong STRS Ohio is not just important to teachers but to every Ohioan,"
William J. (Bill) Neville
Guest Columnist 
Columbus Dispatch
May 16, 2023
Columbus resident William J. (Bill) Neville became the tenth executive director of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio in July 2020.
For over 100 years, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio has provided retired teachers with the financial security of a pension they cannot outlive.
It is critical that the STRS Ohio Retirement Board balance the interests of current retirees with the need to maintain the fund for young teachers who may be receiving retirement benefits into the next century.
Because STRS Ohio pours billions of dollars into Ohio’s economy each year, a strong STRS Ohio is not just important to teachers but to every Ohioan.
STRS Ohio paid $7.1 billion in benefits in fiscal year 2022. Retirees living in Ohio received $5.7 billion of this amount.
STRS Ohio paid $418 million in health care in fiscal year 2022 on behalf of more than 108,000 enrollees in the STRS Ohio Health Care Program, which is projected to be there for current retirees and all teachers currently in the classroom.
The typical new STRS Ohio retiree, with 34 or more years of service, receives an annual pension benefit of about $69,000.
The majority of benefits are paid from investment returns, not educator or employer contributions.
STRS Ohio investment performance ranked in the top 10% of public funds for the three-, five-, seven- and 10-year periods ended December 31, 2022 — with lower risk and at a lower cost than its peers. 
In fiscal year 2021, STRS Ohio investment managers outperformed the market with a 29% return and made $22 billion for the teachers of Ohio.
STRS Ohio has approximately $11.6 billion invested in companies that are either headquartered or have significant operations in Ohio.
In 2012, following the Great Recession, the laws governing Ohio public pension systems were amended to preserve the systems’ fiscal integrity.
Those changes required teachers to work longer and contribute more to their retirement and reduced cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.
Fortunately, pension reform is working. STRS Ohio’s financial condition has improved dramatically over the past 10 years. In March of 2022, the Board was able to grant a 3% COLA to retirees and remove a requirement that teachers work until at least age 60 to receive an unreduced retirement benefit.
At its April 2023 meeting, the Board began considering whether additional benefit enhancements are possible.
The board is working with its independent, third-party actuary, who under Ohio law must determine benefit adjustments will not materially impair the fiscal integrity of the pension fund, to develop a plan to provide sustainable benefit enhancements. Further discussions are expected at this month’s Board meeting.
Read the rest of the article here

The picture at STRS is NOT rosy, as Bill Neville would have you think (see article above); far from it! Remember: he's trying to save his cushy job. Read on!

From Joe Lupo

May 16, 2023
My Response to William J. (Bill) Neville's Guest Opinion in The Columbus Dispatch Today, May 16, 2023 (see above article).
When I read this guest opinion by Bill Neville, titled "STRS director: Teacher 'pension reform is working, Board balancing needs of retirees, future," the only thing that came to mind is how the propaganda stream just never stops. In fact, Neville and his communication department have become quite adept at taking the facts and distorting them however they want. Then they turn around and accuse those of us on social media of misinformation when it is they who are guilty.
I also need to clear the clouded vision of Neville and all staff members before responding to specific statements in his guest opinion. Neville refers to STRS as if were a stand alone independent organization that provides us with services and a retirement much like Social Security or a welfare-type agency. Wrong and wrong again based on the following:
That having been said, I will now move on to the content. Neville stated the following: "It is critical that the STRS Ohio Retirement Board balance the interest of current retirees with the need to maintain the fund for young teachers who may be receiving retirement benefits into the next century". Where was the concern for 30-plus years when money was spent like water on a multitude of unnecessary expenditures that were of no direct benefit to the retirees or active members? And by the way, Mr. Neville, you are also guilty of continuing unnecessary spending practices. Where was the concern over the years that resulted in $20 billion in unfunded liabilities? No mention of that either.
After Neville brags about the $7.4 billion in benefits paid and the $418 million in health care, he then has the bold face audacity to state the following; "The majority of benefits are paid from investment returns, not educator or employer contributions" Really? He conveniently left out the part that all the money used for investments come from the educator and employer contributions. Since Neville and none of the staff pay into STRS, we know the money certainly doesn't come from them. Fact is, our pension funds are used to pay the employer contribution for their retirement to OPERS (Ohio Public Employee System).
Once again Neville had to blow his horn stating; "Ohio investment managers rank in the top 10 per cent of public funds for the three-, five- and seven-year periods ending December 31, 2022." However for the first half of 2022, STRS in real estate investments performed worse than all the other Ohio public pension systems. So, Neville is obviously cherry-picking the facts. He moves on to talk about the $20 billion made for the teachers. However he conveniently fails to mention the billions of investment losses and the millions paid in bonuses. He fails to mention those periods of underperformance by the investment staff. Isn't telling the whole story the same as misrepresentation and misinformation?
Neville states that; "In 2012, following the Great Recession, the laws governing Ohio public pension systems were amended to preserve the systems' fiscal integrity". All these changes were at the request of STRS and were blindly approved by the Ohio Legislators, thus providing the opportunity for Neville and the board to make changes that continue to impact us as members. The least Neville could do is be forthright with his information. Neville should not have to spend one minute thinking about why the members do not trust him. The reasons should be very clear by simply reviewing his actions as ED.
He states; "Fortunately, pension reform is working." STRS Ohio's financial condition has improved dramatically over the past 10 years." He mentions the 3% one-time COLA, but fails to mention all the years retirees have gone without a COLA. He also fails to mention that Ohio teachers' pay one of the highest, if not the highest employee retirement contribution percentage in the country. The hard, cold fact is the improvements to the financial condition have been on the backs of the members. There has been no skin in the game by the employees who continued to receive raises, bonuses, performance-based increases, vacation and sick leave buy-backs and the employee perks that members are forced to subsidize.
In Neville's last comment he talks about the protection for Ohio Teachers for over a century. Actually, the protection provided has been at the expense of the members and was not some unpaid benefit. The money protecting us is our money. Unfortunately due to STRS's sordid past and present, our protection has diminished in value, and unfortunately will diminish even further for future retirees.
Mr. Neville's primary problem is that he and the employees of STRS do not live in our world. There are both retired and active members who are having difficulty making ends meet while millions are being spent on staff salary increases and bonuses. The current economy has further impacted them because Neville and the majority board members have taken away their ability to have adequate finances. Neville attempts to paint a rosy picture. When the glitter is removed, it is just another attempt by him to whitewash a very dark situation that many retirees live with every day while the majority board members continue to support the downward spiral that Neville has put us in.

Billy's rear-view mirror just keeps getting more and more cluttered, doesn't it? That seems to make Billy even more paranoid!

From John Curry

May 16, 2023

Toledo Blade: "There is no better illustration of ORSC incompetence than discussion without resolution on $11 million in bonuses, while ignoring $90 billion in unrealized investment gains." 

Toledo Blade

Published: May 16, 2023

Focus on performance


Ohio’s Retirement Study Council is supposed to safeguard the retirement assets of the state’s five public pension funds.

Close observation over an extended period leaves us with little confidence they are up to the job.

It’s a critical job. Ohio’s pensions hold over $250 billion for more than 2 million public workers who are currently paying, formerly paid, or are collecting retirement benefits. Because Ohio public workers do not pay Social Security, the state system is all they can count on for retirement income.

On Thursday, the ORSC questioned State Teachers Retirement System leadership on the highly controversial plan to pay performance incentive bonuses totaling more than $11 million to investment staff.

Multiple members, including Sen. Paula Hicks Hudson (D., Toledo), prefaced their questions with admissions of ignorance on investment management. Ideally, such an important oversight body would appoint members with some degree of expertise.

But it takes no expertise whatsoever to understand the key fact on STRS.

State Auditor Keith Faber’s special investigation of STRS featured an easy to understand performance chart.

Since 2009 STRS has underperformed the results of an S&P 500 index by $90 billion. Incredibly, Ohio is paying STRS staff performance bonuses when they have demonstrably destroyed value.

If STRS had no investment staff and put the entire portfolio into an index it would literally have doubled the money it has now, according to Mr. Faber. STRS would also have paid a fraction of the fees they do now.

There is no better illustration of ORSC incompetence than discussion without resolution on $11 million in bonuses, while ignoring $90 billion in unrealized investment gains.

STRS has a $20 billion liability, has frozen cost-of-living-adjustments since 2017 and is pushing legislation to increase the amount school districts — taxpayers — contribute to the pension.

Read the rest of the article here

An STRS love affair?

From John Curry

May 16, 2023

Yes, G. Brent Bishop and Brent G. Bishop are the same person! I think I now understand why Mikey DeWine likes Brent....and why Brent likes Mikey. Do you now see a connection?

Monday, May 15, 2023

Remember two things: (1) Some lawyers can get awfully dicey with wording, and (2) Executive Director Bill Neville is a lawyer. Read this article and draw your own conclusions.

From John Curry

May 15, 2023

Robert's Rules of Order....everybody follows Robert's Rules, right? WRONG! 
Let us take a look at pages taken from "Board Policy" for meetings at both OPERS and STRS to see how they conduct their Board meetings. Here is how Bill Neville can control what goes on (and doesn't go on) at STRS Board meetings more so than the Executive Director of OPERS can control his Board meetings. 
See if you can see the subtle difference which makes all the difference in the world! THERE IS A MAJOR DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WORDS "SHALL" AND "MAY," ISN'T THERE? Gee...I wonder who wrote this page in the STRS Board Policy manual? This wouldn't be what you call "hobbling democracy" at STRS would it? OPERS follows Robert's Rules....STRS creates their rules, if necessary, as they "go along." Pretty handy, eh?

Joe Lupo: Update on the Illegitimate Removal of Wade Steen by Governor Mike DeWine - Part III

From Joe Lupo

May 15, 2023

Update on the Illegitimate Removal of Wade Steen by Governor Mike DeWine - Part III

There is an old song, "What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours." And it is so true! Since I posted my last findings less than 24 hours ago, more information has been provided by the eyes and ears of those that some might call "leakers." I call them MOF friends and supporters.
You might find it interesting that MOF has been informed that STRS knew the results of the board election on Tuesday, May 2, 2023 which gave them three days advanced notice to lobby DeWine.
I will continue to stand my ground that DeWine had no authority to remove Wade Steen. What I will cover here, is what the real motivation was by those that collaborated and colluded with DeWine for Steen's attempted removal. DeWine did not act on a sudden and possibly overnight concern for teachers/members benefits or COLA. It was not about any violation of an attendance policy by Steen which is neither found in ORC or the STRS Board Policy Manual.
What it was about, was a presentation by Board Member Rudy Fichtenbaum some months ago regarding index investments and Wade Steen's verbal support. This was a presentation and was not put into a motion to be voted on. In fact, Rudy's presentation was rudely cut short only after a short time by Carol Correthers, Board Chair, and was never completed. Even though there was no action then or at any following board meetings, this became the weapon of choice. All one needs to do is read DeWine's statements in his press release presenting a watered down version of the concerns by Neville and the current investment staff.
Why should they be concerned? I answer that question based on meeting up with an 83-year-old friend who became a multimillionaire at a young age, having sold an invention and then a second. He is a self taught investor and has made several millions using index investing without a broker. It was during my conversation with him that I realized what may have been the catalyst for DeWine's "Friday's Dirty Deed."
With this information, it became evident that Neville, who certainly wants to save his own job at STRS, used Rudy's investment presentation so he could include the STRS overstaffed and overpriced investment department as well to pressure DeWine to try to remove Steen. Based on my friend's investment strategies and by doing his own investing, the current STRS investment department could possibly become a skeleton of what it currently is now. Thus the investment issue became the bullet that was fired at the governor along with the participation of some of the current majority and past board members who were successfully unseated the last board elections.
While one can only assume, the conversation and documentation presented to DeWine and/or his staff, his own press release strongly support what DeWine operated with in his attempted removal of Wade Steen. DeWine certainly can make that charge, but the burden of proof is now on him since he would have to file it with the Ohio Ethics Commission and follow the procedure in accordance with ORC Section 3.04. Until DeWine follows the procedure as outlined in the law, Wade Steen is his appointment.
Do not interpret this new information as excluding any of the parties that I have cited in my previous two posts. What I am doing here is highlighting those players that had everything to gain by Steen no longer being on the board. Steen might have been the sixth vote in removing Neville as E.D. If that happened, his removal would lead to the needed and long overdue reformation of STRS.
It is unfortunate that DeWine was obviously led to believe that he was going to be providing a solution to the problems for the STRS members. Unfortunately, he became a major part of the problems for members. Certainly the kickback he is experiencing in his attempted removal of Steen has to bring back memories of FirstEnergy for him. While he was never charged, the stain still lingers on and is never forgotten. Unfortunately, it will be the same for Governor Dewine in this situation as well.
Joe Lupo

Joe Lupo, a retired education administrator, is the founder and administrator of the Facebook reform group Ohio STRS Member Only Forum ("MOF") which, as of this posting, numbers more than 34,000 members.

Well, we now have (finally) the ORSC's report on their audit of STRS. But did they address the elephant in the room: WHY, if STRS is so wealthy and so able to generously enrich themselves and their own, they CONTINUE to be the ONLY pension system NOT giving their retirees their promised COLA? And why they continue to FLEECE the active teachers and make them WORK LONGER to cover THEIR (STRS') unspeakable investment blunders? YOU TELL ME!!!


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