Saturday, September 30, 2023

Trina Kay Prufer: Bill Neville's explanation does not add up or make sense

From Trina Kay Prufer

September 30, 2023

The explanation does not make sense - I have been thinking about my discussion with Mr. Neville over the last few days, and one aspect that bothers me is his conviction that the cola was never assured because it had changed over the years.
But, that is diametrically opposed to the guidance I received during ANNUAL regional conferences. As it happens, I have a treasure trove of STRS documents, booklets and assurances, as I retired in 2003 and my husband worked through most of 2008. In those days STRS held regional conferences where STRS counselors conducted individual sessions with actives and produced print-outs with numbers, plan booklets, options, and ORC law as it pertained to the retirement benefit. It was always stressed that the 3% cola was guaranteed and a part of the benefit, as it was written into the law. So, why should I have doubted any of it?
Neville needs to provide a better explanation as to WHY we should not have believed the information STRS employees provided to us, especially as it was presented in official looking print-outs and plan booklets handed to us YEAR after YEAR. ”Actual benefits will be paid in accordance with STRS Law in effect at the time of RETIREMENT” It is a HUMAN RIGHT to know what our retirement benefit provided… after all we had to plan for our futures. Knowing what a retirement benefit provides might seem like common sense, but it is also one of the most ESSENTIAL obligations of a retirement system.
The explanation just does not add up or make sense.

The Mess at STRS: The Tip of the Iceberg


Friday, September 29, 2023

John Curry compares 20 of the top paying jobs between STRS and SERS; guess who snagged 19 of them!

From John Curry

September 29, 2023
Congratulations, STRS, you have won 19 out of 20 of the top paying jobs in the contest between you and the Schools Employees Retirement System 2022 paycheck contest. It takes a lot of work but I knew that you could do it. The 2022 STRS pay data was added to OhioCheckbook website this was worth the wait! Here is a link for you to go and look at it yourself.
Police & Fire, Highway Patrol and OPERS have yet to be added to this list. Notice the bonuses in light blue?
4 of the top 6 PEOPLE ON THIS LIST WORK AT OUR SATELLITE REAL ESTATE OFFICES!!!!! These 4 STRS employees took home over 2.5 Million bucks last year!!!

Want to see what you're paying for all that STRS propaganda? Read on!

From John Curry

September 29, 2023
So, just how much to WE pay for our propaganda from STRS? Here is the latest info. I notice they have lots of fancy titles including a "Front End Web Development Web Designer." May I suggest a "Rear End Web Development Web Designer" as, after all, it's just our money, isn't it?

Naw -- a serious case of mismanagement? DAMN RIGHT IT IS!!!

From John Curry

September 29, 2923
Earlier I put out the top 20 paid employees of School Employees (SERS) Retirement System vs. STRS. THERE WAS ONLY ONE SERS EMPLOYEE ON THAT LIST of 20 persons.
Now, let us compare positions 21-60 to see how many more SERS employees we can find in positions 21-60. I have highlighted them in green markers. My, my....look how many SERS employees you DON'T find! These two pages should also tell you something.....that STRS holds down 58 out of 60 of the TOP PAYING POSITIONS!!! THAT IS 96.6%!
What's not to like....if you are an STRS employee!
P.S. Did I mention that SERS (just down the street a few doors from STRS) also rents out about a dozen office spaces for outside business so that SERS can make some money? STRS still refuses to rent out ANY space! What's wrong with this picture?
I would call all of this a "serious case of mismanagement!" How about you?

Thursday, September 28, 2023

A little STRS history lesson from State Auditor Keith Faber and John Curry: How that $90 billion COULD have been used

From John Curry

September 28, 2023
For our newbies -
In December of 2022 Ohio's Auditor Keith Faber released his findings in a "Special Audit" of STRS. Below is the cover page and page 28, a page which sums up just how poorly our STRS investment team really performed over the 13 year period when Wall Street had (for most of this period) record breaking yearly profits.
The bottom line....TEACHERS COULD HAVE 90 BILLON more dollars than we currently have IF our "crack investment team" would simply have used mostly index funds instead of their inept skills at investing (see the green line below). With that missing $90 Billion teachers would still only have to work 30 years for a full benefits retirement and retirees would have continuously received their promised 3% COLAs without interruptions. STRS did a good job of keeping this information from actives and retirees, didn't they? Here is a link to the full report. Comments and highlighting in red font are mine.

Trina Kay Prufer's take on Bill Neville at his 9/27/2023 Town Meeting in Beachwood, OH: He is absolutely NOT interested in listening to the issues of membership; these meetings are all about tightly controlling the discourse.

By Trina Kay Prufer

September 28, 2023
The first 30 minutes was a power point of the usual dog and pony show of cherry- picked statistics. I was able to ask two questions. The first was about why STRS does not address the calculation of the monetary loss to membership and the second was about why STRS produces the videos, when they they are insulting and present a false story to membership. I actually called them stupid.
His answers were not satisfactory and just evasive. His technique is not to answer the heart of the question, but to only address the part that he has a canned response for. Initially we were told we could only ask one question, so there was no way to follow up on a deceptive or off-topic response. When he wants to change the topic, he then calls on another person in the room, with a different question. There were only 53 people there, which was a shame as many were turned away by STRS during the registration process. I was told the room can hold 100.
I talked with Neville separately at the end of the meeting, which I will discuss in another post. I left feeling very discouraged as STRS controls all the levers of communication… selecting for audience and location, the limiting of time, no way to press back on his false and prepared responses and his ability to quickly pivot to a different individual who might be less direct or confrontational. He is absolutely NOT interested in listening to the issues of membership; these meetings are all about tightly controlling the discourse.


Trina Prufer on Bill Neville: This is a man who has compartmentalized, refuses to accept responsibility for and will do nothing of any significance to help teachers. You CANNOT solve a problem that you do not even believe IS a problem.

From Trina Kay Prufer

September 28, 2023
Yesterday’s Town Hall in Beachwood - First and foremost, I want to thank Sheryl Butler for reaching out to me, and for her kind hospitality and support, as I attended yesterday’s meeting as her guest. There was no problem at all getting in, as we came early, and in fact we were the first ones in the room.
I did want to address the few minutes I had with Mr. Neville after the meeting, to give everyone an idea of my impressions and where he is coming from. Although he appears outwardly willing to engage in discussion with teachers, there is no empathy, understanding, comprehension or acknowledgment of the magnitude of the problem. He, and STRS as an organization, does not care that 150K teachers have been left without inflation protection, which means a significantly diminished monthly income in advanced age. I believe I used the word ” ticking time bomb”, which was ignored. He used the word ”emotional” to describe some responses, which I took to mean he is unmoved by the misery. This is a man who has compartmentalized, refuses to accept responsibility for and will do nothing of any significance to help teachers. You CANNOT solve a problem that you do not even believe IS a problem.
So, what is his viewpoint as to why it was OK to remove the cola after teachers had planned their financial lives on STRS assurances? His answer to me was very simple, cold, brief and straightforward… the cola had been changed 17 times in the 100 year history of STRS, and so that was always a possibility and STRS had the authority to do so. Although not directly stated, the implication was that we should have known this. That was it…. That is what, in his mind, justifies the carnage to our financial security.
As I had my iPad with me, which contained all the STRS documentation, I showed him the wording in the Summary Plans we all have. I even showed him the assurances that the benefit was pre-funded. He told me he was not familiar with the term “pre-funded cola“. None of this matters to Neville or STRS. It was like talking to a stone.
My only hope is that some of this might help us in moving forward. There are so many holes in his position, and it is such an affront to common decency, that perhaps we can craft a powerful counter-response with facts, figures and legal arguments. What we can’t count on is any normal human response to this travesty.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Well, we're at the bottom of the heap with our health insurance -- no surprise there!!!


September 27, 2023

Bidding law flaw

The Blade Editorial Board

Toledo Blade

September 27, 2023

The safeguards in Ohio law that protect public funds against bid rigging and contract steering have giant loopholes that leave billions of taxpayer dollars vulnerable.

State legislators should fix this glaring problem as an urgent priority. The State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, recipient of $3,634,475,000 in taxpayer money in 2022, recently won a ruling that its health care insurance contract is exempt from Ohio bidding laws.

Humana sued STRS and won a temporary restraining order keeping STRS from awarding the contract for beneficiary health care. Humana charged STRS was acting outside the Ohio Revised Code, but STRS easily won a summary judgement dismissing the case as a nonissue because the law doesn’t cover the retirement systems.

Specifically, because the beneficiaries of the health-care insurance are retirees, not state employees, the contract was outside Ohio law on procurement. The five Ohio public pensions took in $9.5 billion in 2022 and whether it came from employees or employers, state taxpayers were the original source of funds.

The same procurement loophole exists for Ohio’s Medicaid program. Toledo-based Paramount Health, the ProMedica subsidiary whose financial spiral began with they lost a piece of a $22 billion Medicaid contract, never had a chance in their lawsuit over bidding irregularities because 3 million impoverished citizens, not the state, received the insurance coverage.

Thus, Ohio was able to select firms that it had recently sued for fraud in the Medicaid program without need to defend the decision as a violation of state procurement law. Ohio’s current budget allocates $71 billion to Medicaid. Leaving that much money unprotected by Ohio purchasing law, in a state of endemic corruption, is an invitation to graft. It is an insult to taxpayers that pencil and paper purchases in schools and local governments are regulated much closer than billions of dollars spent on insurance.

Both STRS and the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund want state lawmakers to approve a large increase in the amount school systems and local governments pay into the funds. But before legislators force taxpayers to cough up more money to bail out pensions, they should make them follow Ohio bidding law and protect the money they already get.

At the same time, the STRS Board and all the other pension system boards should weigh in with oversight requirements that force an affirmative vote on financially significant contracts. STRS hired Buck Consultants to help evaluate the health insurance bids and the consultants scored Humana at 4.9 out of 5 and Aetna at 3.2 out of 5.

STRS Member Benefits Director Gary Russell and Executive Director William Neville made the selection for Aetna and made the decision that input from their “contentious board” was not necessary.

A four-year contract driving $1.1 billion of annual spending should not be made by a couple of bureaucrats unbound by state law or oversight from the government appointed and member elected board with ultimate responsibility.

Ohio law must address this multibillion dollar vulnerability immediately.

Read this editorial online at The Blade

Cathy Steinhauser to STRS Board September 21, 2023: BE A BETTER FIDUCIARY!!

From Cathy Steinhauser

September 21, 2023
Cathy Steinhauser - 35 yrs. Family & Consumer Sciences satellite teacher w/Pickaway-Ross CTC for Circleville City Schools.
First, I'd like to welcome Mr. Davidson to my STRS Board. We have anxiously been waiting for you to take your seat and wish you the very best. Teachers know that you will be a proper fiduciary during your time of service.
Speaking of the word fiduciary, I think I need to review again what a fiduciary is because last month more than half the Board did not fulfill their fiduciary duty: "A person who acts on behalf of another person or persons, putting their clients' interests ahead of their own, with a duty to preserve good faith and trust. Being a fiduciary requires being bound both LEGALLY and ETHICALLY to act in others' best interests." This means that every Board member, the investment group, the executive director, the legal team, the financial team, the communications team and any other group is supposed to do what is right for the teachers in this pension because "STRS exists to pay member benefits" (Wade Steen). Teachers should be the first consideration in how this pension's decisions should be made! Misuse of pension money by paying for expensive surveys is a recent example of wasting pensioner's money! Stop the wasteful spending!!
An STRS pensioner, Erica Preston, had her disability hearing yesterday morning. I do not know Erica personally but after reading her story, I could tell she had been through hell. She had contracted Covid three years ago, fell, hit her head, and got amnesia. Every day since that fall she lives the next as a repeat. During her hearing, she felt like not one single person appeared to be listening. Her sister had to present her info because she can't communicate in stressful situations. Social Security awarded her Medicare within weeks of applying and deemed her disabled, therefore, the federal government says she can't work but STRS says she can??? In the meantime, she lost her license due to her inability to retain new info and complete CEUs. After teaching for 22 years the school district will fire her on Tuesday. Way to have her back STRS!! She gave so much to the public school system only to have you turn your back on her. If it weren't for her parents, her family would be homeless. Not having a paycheck in almost 3 years has been very difficult. She has already lost her identity and ability to function independently throughout the day and now you're taking whatever dignity she has left. You all should be ashamed of this terrible treatment to a disabled colleague. It just goes to show that STRS is heartless and greedy compared to what employees and staff receive that the pensioner's pay for.
Lastly, I would like the executive director to take a good hard look at the evaluations that were filled out critiquing his performance in the past fiscal year. STRS pensioners feel very much the same way about comments made by those board members who actually gave truthful, honest answers about the reality of how this pension has been operated. A few other board member's answers to questions were actually quite ridiculous and pensioners reading these were wise to knowing what the truth really is.
In closing, I would like to say "BE A BETTER FIDUCIARY"!!

Suzanne Laird to STRS Board September 21 2023: Mr. Steen understood his function. Do you understand yours?

From Suzanne Laird

September 21, 2023
Good Morning, Members of MY Board:

Why do you exist?

I'm not asking the existential question - I am only allowed three minutes here, after all…..

Why do you, as a Board, actually exist?

If you exist to line the pockets of the Wall Street managers, you're doing a great job!

If you exist to continually grant exorbitant bonuses to the investment team, who consistently lose our money, you're doing a great job!

If you exist to allow the Governor to circumvent our vote, denying the will of the members, you're doing a great job!

If you exist to authorize one of the highest contribution rates for active teachers in the nation, you're doing a great job!

If you exist to permit older retirees to sink into poverty without a stable, reliable, permanent COLA, you're doing a great job!

You. Should. Be. Ashamed.

Now, some of you are fighting like hell; but some of you are so arrogant, incompetent, or just plain ignorant, you may not be capable of understanding your purpose here. 

You're not here to cater to the extravagant whims of the employees here, you are the last gatekeeper, meant to restrain their greed.

Wade Steen said it best: "STRS exists to pay benefits."

Beyond that fundamental level, I would argue that you are here to safeguard and sustain the very profession of teaching in the state of Ohio. Without a secure retirement system, what future is there for our profession?

Mr. Steen understood his function.

Do you understand yours?

Dan MacDonald with some questions about "Transparency" for STRS (Board meeting September 21, 2023

Dan MacDonald's comments to the STRS Board September 21, 2023 

From Dan MacDonald
September 21, 2023
Public Participation September STRS Board Meeting
Mr. Chair, 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. 
I’ve attached the Board Policy, as found on the website, for Public Participation at Board Meetings.  Nowhere is it stated that Board members can not respond to the public.  Your public attendees witnessed last month’s the silencing of a Board member by the chair before the five-hour marathon executive session with a terse “We do not respond to that.” The following day the audience witnessed the chair’s confusion when a Board member requested information in open session regarding the closing of the daycare center. The chair: “I don’t know that this would be the forum for that.” 
If the Board serves as the link between the Retirement System and its members, what forum really exists for our public’s concerns?  Ignore seems to be the answer.  The Executive Director did respond with unprepared off the cuff remarks. 
Going back 20 years, numerous times in public participation the daycare center has been brought up as a drain to the pension fund. The cafeteria has been mentioned similarly. Before a month ago, when was it ever shared that the daycare center made a profit. Subsidies is what your public has always thought. This Board and former Boards and STRS staff allow us to bring up issues accurate or not. Recently the lack of taxes on food purchased in the cafeteria was presented in public participation. Now I am sure STRS is paying taxes, probably like a ball park or a parking lot where the tax is included in the cost of the item.  Is there a reason that couldn’t be stated or is STRS really heavily subsidizing the cafeteria?  Silence, therefore it must be true. 
Personally, I think these services should be available in a $90 billion dollar business at cost or slight profit. I’d point out that neither of these services would allow for a guaranteed COLA, but I will admit it fulfills one Board member’s thought of how do you eat an elephant, small bites.
Transparency:  Would the daycare closing have ever been addressed if it wasn’t for four ladies? 
Transparency:  The July Director’s Report should have included the closing of the daycare center.
Transparency:  Departments begin their presentation with a brief summary of the presentation which includes any required Board actions.  No where in the Performance-Based Incentive presentation was a vote mentioned until suddenly on Friday it was placed vocally onto the agenda.
Transparency: Congratulation to the investment associate who stated “We could have done better” during June.
Transparency: Is there a reason that the PBI Payment was not listed on the Routine Matters document shared in public session last month?
Transparency: Routine Matters, is there a reason that handout is not posted to the STRS website?
As always, actives need their future benefits enhanced and retirees need an acceptable guaranteed COLA.

Dan MacDonald's report on the September 21, 2023 STRS Board meeting

From Dan MacDonald

September 21, 2023 
Rob Walters and Dan MacDonald attended the September STRS Board meeting, neither of us attended the Investment Department Committee meeting on Wednesday, September 20, during which firms were interviewed to be general consultant for the Investment Department.  Dale Price is now the Chair of the Board. After the August minutes were approved, the Member Benefits Department had consultant CEM Benchmarketing present on the cost and services of the department to its peers. The department earned the second highest service-level score. This past year, its service score was 93 compared to a peer median of 81 while the cost per active member and annuitant was $98 compare to a peer average of $109. There was discussion on where numbers were drawn for the study. This report was followed by an update on the STRS Defined Contribution Plan which was implemented July 1, 2001.
Following the Member Benefits Department, a parliamentarian workshop was held on meeting procedures and small board procedures. The Board will take up Roberts Rules of Order at the November planning meeting after a motion to postpone consideration passed 6 to 5. [It should be noted that November’s meeting is not a typical Board meeting so Mr. Fichtenbaum’s push to adopt Roberts Rules of Order can’t be placed in the Board Policy even in November. Currently the Chair can use Roberts as “guidelines” if the Chair desires.]
Public Participation had 12 participants. 5 spoke in support of the STRS daycare center.  Three talked on hidden investment fees and their effect on the general fund net figure. One talked on the loss of moneys to retirees because of the loss of COLA. One person talked on behalf of a disabled retiree who STRS has told to return to work.  One person spoke on behalf of STRS and misleading facts. One person spoke regarding net vs gross returns and benchmarks.
A 90-minute lunch/executive session break then occurred.
The Investment Department reported an August gross return of negative 0.95 and a net return of a negative 0.96.  Preliminary total investment assets ended August at $89.9 billion, lower by $100 million in FY 2024.  The department then went over its securities lending program.
Executive Director Neville then gave his September report with some demographic information.  There were 3,702 new retirees in FY2023, the highest number since 2015.  This number is expected to grow over the next decade. There were 17,495 new hires in FY2023. As of June 30, 209 benefit recipients aged 100 or older – 180 females and 29 males.  The oldest recipient is 108 years young.  The member retired in 1973. The retiree who has been receiving benefits the longest – for 66 years – is a disability recipient. She began receiving a benefit in 1957 at age 27.
Following Routine Matters several ideas were promoted under new business. Mr. Bishop suggested the Board adopt a Key Trending Performance Dashboard.  New Board member Davidson moved to discuss the daycare center which was promptly cut down by a motion to postpone to October.  Mr. Davidson also requested percentages under years of service be reviewed by the Board at a future meeting. 
[Overall this was a very low keyed meeting with Chair Dale Price talking the helm and moving the agenda.]
The meeting adjourned at 3:31 p.m.  The next meeting should be October 19, 2023. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Trina Kay Prufer: Does STRS operate like a crime syndicate?

From Trina Kay Prufer

September 26, 2023
Does STRS operate like a crime syndicate?
I was thinking about how STRS management refers to the institution itself as being a “premier” retirement system. It’s only “premier” in the same sense as a crime family living well and displaying its ostentatious wealth. There are no expenses deemed too ludicrous or extravagant for its pampered employees and overpaid consultants.
It produces no product, lives well off the hard-earned income of others, relies on political cronyism, has scammed 100K teachers out of financial security, has a monopoly on extracting 14% from active teachers and hides its misdeeds and schemes through disinformation, propaganda videos, phony surveys and highly choreographed meetings. Not a modicum of decency or care is ever shown for the perilous financial situation it has created for membership. Ohio’s teachers (and its taxpayers) are the source of capital that feeds this billion dollar empire.
STRS -  …unsafe for teachers’ retirement savings. It has justly earned its corrupted reputation.
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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