Friday, October 27, 2023

James Carr: Until we have a reform majority STRS Board, I am afraid the hole will remain a bottomless pit that makes our money disappear.

From James Carr

October 27, 2023

STRS now claims, with its "new" mission statement, that it wants to provide a foundation for the financial security of teachers, past and present. Well, speaking as a member of the past generation, I can tell STRS with a high degree of certainty: YOUR MISSION WAS NOT ACCOMPLISHED.
When you tell people who are planning their retirements that they will be unequivocally protected by an annual 3% COLA that has already been funded, and then have the audacity to renege on that promise after they retire, you have failed to provide for their financial security. In fact, the bogus promise made by STRS denied them the ability to make sound financial decisions prior to their retirements.
As for the financial security of future teachers, you have failed them miserably too. How can they build a foundation when STRS is forcing them to contribute 14% of their gross income to a retirement that will not protect them from inflation? They are being robbed of the money that they need to invest for the future.
I don't see a foundation. The only thing I see is a very deep hole. Until we have a reform majority STRS Board, I am afraid the hole will remain a bottomless pit that makes our money disappear.
Added October 28:
STRS can say whatever it wants, the proof is what it actually does or doesn't do. When you take 14%, require 34/35 years of service and give no annual COLA you aren't building a foundation, you are erecting a house of cards.

The latest on the Wade Steen case; you be the judge

 Document date: October 27, 2023

Trina Kay Prufer: What I do know is that another generation of teachers will not stand for this, or be so easily fooled. The demise of STRS, in its current form, is coming… am just hoping we can somehow triumph in the end.

From Trina Kay Prufer

October 27, 2023

Our voices are not heard - why must everything about STRS be deceptive and predatory?
The STRS building is protected like a fortress… membership is restricted to parts of the building; there are more security and concierge staff than they know what to do with. A fortune is spent on security…. paranoia reigns.
The mission and vision statements and goals say NOTHING, except the purpose of STRS is NOT to provide financial security or put membership first. Just lots of weasel words and empty platitudes. It’s not what the statements say that is important… it’s what they DON’T SAY.
The 2012 “reform” legislation guarantees that teachers will be harmed. All debt is offloaded to teachers and expenses are completely unchecked. Wasted time at monthly meetings is spent on the percentages bestowed on bonuses, when the real problem is theft of wealth from many thousands of teachers. Billions are shoveled into alternatives and real estate.
Nothing is what it seems… not the communication (or propaganda) department, the phony town halls, the 3 minutes allotted to teachers’ perspectives (only if they come to Columbus) the dog and pony show monthly meetings and the supposed “premier” status of the organization, which has financially harmed more teachers than any other teacher retirement system in the nation.
The essential problem is that membership was made reliant on empty promises of financial security. Our voices of reason and protest are muffled, denied and ridiculed.
How much more deception are we prepared to accept? Honestly, STRS functions more like a syndicate than a teacher pension system. Will the courts or possible control of the pension board save us? We can hope.
What I do know is that another generation of teachers will not stand for this, or be so easily fooled. The demise of STRS, in its current form, is coming… am just hoping we can somehow triumph in the end.

Trina Kay Prufer: Historic STRS membership documents - use of the terms: “Law”, “Ohio Revised Code” and “ BENEFIT INCREASES AFTER RETIREMENT” (all in caps)

From Trina Kay Prufer

October 27, 2023

Historic STRS membership documents -  use of the terms:

“Law”, “Ohio Revised Code”  and “BENEFIT INCREASES AFTER RETIREMENT” (all in caps) 
I begin each day thinking about how I could possibly have landed in the predicament of having an essentially fixed-income monthly pension, being dependent on a corrupt organization for my livelihood. 
After all, in general, teachers are planners, savers and do their due diligence. What could have been safer than a state pension? Nothing makes me more angry than being told, by Neville, (personally, no less) that inflation protection was never intended as part of the defined benefit. 
After all, being an educator is not the easiest job; however, many of us stayed in the same district because we had planned our retirements to maximize income… again.. planning and due diligence... or so we thought.
The earliest STRS documents ( annual statements) that I have go back to 1988. They all say pretty much the same thing and use words such as the “Law”, or “Ohio Revised Code” Each and every statement or document I have has a section on “ Benefit increases after retirement” or say ”Actual Benefits will be paid in Accordance with STRS law in effect at the time you retire” Every single retirement booklet I have has a section on the annual COLA. EVERY… SINGLE… ONE. There are absolutely no qualifiers in any STRS documents suggesting the cola was not a part of the benefit  or an  “enhancement”.
Even the name of the retirement system, The STATE Teachers Retirement System of OHIO, carries the GRAVITAS of the law backing up the documents. 
There was a significant change in the wording on the cola after 2012, yet we are told this applies to all retirees. What happened to the certainty conveyed to those of us who retired prior to 2012? 
A contract is a contract… otherwise, with intent, it was fraud. If Neville and status quo STRS board members really believe the cola was never a part of the defined-benefit, they need to go back and read the documents issued to us.… then tell us again WHY the cola was never a part of the benefit.

A letter from Wade Steen.....

I can't even imagine how many of these letters Wade signed and sent to the donors of the ORTA Pension Defense Fund. As hard as he's fighting to get back his rightful seat on the STRS Board, we must fight just as hard to help him get there. 

Wade Steen is one of the strongest advocates for teachers ever to serve on the STRS Board. He was removed from that position, thanks to adversarial influences that persuaded the governor, Mike DeWine, to make this move.
Wade, who has no political agenda, was initially appointed for his current term by Governor DeWine. While in his second four-year term on the Board, his sudden and unceremonious removal  from that position occurred in the spring of 2023. He was replaced by one of the governor's political friends who appears to have little interest in or support for teachers' interests.
Thousands of teachers have opposed the governor's action; Wade is suing for reinstatement to the STRS Board; and ORTA started a Pension Defense Fund that is helping to defray his legal expenses.
Wade is fighting hard to regain his seat on the STRS Board so he can continue his advocacy for teachers. If you would like to help get him reinstated to the STRS Board, you can donate to the ORTA Pension Defense Fund here: 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Food for thought.....

 "And once again it is clear that the epicenter of our financial dilemma at STRS is the investment department and their self-serving investment strategies that feed their greed."

            ~ Joe Lupo

Wednesday, October 25, 2023


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Check out ORTA -- it's the ONLY organization that advocates for Ohio's teachers, active and retired!

Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association: For all teachers, active and retired


Why Join ORTA? Explore ORTA's Home Page and find out: 

Join ORTA Here: 

Recommended reading: ORTA Blog and more 

Rob Walters' and Dan MacDonald's report on the October 19, 2023 STRS Board meeting

From Dan MacDonald

October 24, 2023

Robert Walters and Dan MacDonald attended the October 19, 2023, STRS Board meeting. No fireworks this month. 
New Board member Pat Davidson has dived into STRS’s financial figures and questioned management as became obvious during the Finance Department’s report which came after the approval of minutes. An allotted 90 minutes became 220 minutes before an executive session/lunch was called at 12:47 p.m. With the close of FY23, an Annual Comprehensive Financial Report is being prepared. Figures were shared and questioned.
Board member Fichtenbaum  pointed out 2012 retirees have lived half their retirement without a COLA increase; they cannot make it up; and “They do not live forever.” This was spurred by outside consultant actuary Cheiron which produced a Pension Actuarial Valuation based on FY23. The general fund is 81.3% funded, up from 80.9%. If all remains the same [which NEVER happens], in 11.2 years the plan will be fully funded, previously 11.5 years. [Creeping forward]
There still is a negative cash flow of 4.6%, but the flow is covering some of the interest and principal paydown. [Think if you owe on your credit card and make a payment that covers the interest plus an additional 10% of the charges on the card AND you do not add additional charges.]  Cheiron shared multiple projections of what happens to the fund based on investment rate of return over several years. [Think market going up or down and STRS not getting an annual return of 7% to the general fund.] This year’s Funding Policy Dashboard went from a negative 1 to a negative 2, the total range of the dashboard is negative 11 to a positive 11. [Much preferable to be in the positive range.]    
There was also an Actuarial Valuation of the Healthcare portfolio. The healthcare fund is 169% funded. The Healthcare scorecard/dashboard is “0” down from a positive 9 last year, the total range is from a negative 11 to a positive 11.  
Although The Finance report was not completed, the Board broke for Executive session/lunch. After the break, the Finance Department presented the status of Board members’ request. There were 3 proposals. A phase-in of retirement eligibility based on hire date: Group A: those who retired prior to July 1, 2012; Group B, everybody else. A proposal to provide a CPI triggered COLA. A proposal to change fractional years for early retirement factors. All these will be discussed in future Board meetings.  
The Executive Director then gave his report on five items. The Childcare Center between 2012 to 2019 averaged a negative $11,582 per year. It had four surplus years and 4 years of loss. The last four years, COVID years, the center averaged a loss of $209,915 per year with all four years showing loss. 
The Center currently has 35 children with a calculation by STRS of 64 needed to break even. Also, STRS reported it could not find qualified childcare staff. (Not mentioned, but this is amazing, since the childcare staff pay into OPERS and would receive a pension if they stayed; working there should have been a selling point against other centers.) A vote was taken to keep the center open through June. The motion was defeated 3 for, 8 against. 
Public Participation had 10 speakers including 2 childcare parents speaking on behalf of the center, 1 on the STRS townhall meetings, 2 on hirings, 2 on COLA, 2 on Investment staff, 1 on STRS not being the worst pension in the nation. 
The Investment Department then reported. September’s return was a negative 2.29%. Total investment assets ended September at $87.5 billion, lower by $2.6 billion for the first quarter. For FY2024 the total fund net return is a negative 1.72%.  
Figures were shared indicating future better Capital Market assumptions. (Hopefully, the assumptions will happen.) Investment fund governance language changes were made to policy based on the Funston audit. Alternative Investments made a presentation explaining concepts and its positive 12% return from inception-to-date. An overview of the SEC private fund adviser rules was also presented.  
Routine Matters followed and then Old/New Business. Board member Hunt suggested AI and its use with investments be placed on the Board agenda.  
The next Board meeting is in December, but the annual Education/Planning meeting will take place November 16th and 17th and is open to the public.  
Rob Walters & Dan MacDonald 

Dan MacDonalds remarks to the STRS Board October 19, 2023



[This speech had to be altered since the childcare center was voted closed before Public Participation] 

Mr. Chair and members of the Board, good morning  good afternoon.  I am Dan MacDonald, an STRS retiree with 38 plus years of service.  I am also the Executive Director of Local 279R, Northeast Ohio AFT retirees.    

There is no respect for “Public Participation” as was evidenced last month by our STRS timekeeper.  Whoever authorized that sound, he/she should be admonished by the Chair, and the entire Board. Disrespectful.  If that sound were used in your classroom, or the daycare center, someone would be reprimanded.  The Board and the staff certainly showed those parents, and all who spoke last month, what this pension organization genuinely think of us.  

The Childcare Center. Since July the center has been on a death spiral, losing teachers and then children. This should have been handled better by management. A waiting list of 33 families including 5 STRS employees. Five Stars – I can see why that does not fit the image STRS wants to share, the childcare center outperforming the investment department. The childcare center operated on a nonprofit basis versus the PBI investment department. The childcare center has a plan to break even while the investment department struggles daily with the stock market. 

“The Real Story (Part 6)” with its 3 “Undeniable facts.” The on-site cafeteria is not an expense for STRS Ohio. Thanks for addressing my last month’s speech, but now I must ask, because of the wording, “Following three price increases”, does that mean it wasn’t breaking-even? Also, are public participants to look for answers in EUPDATEs?  EUPDATEs are not a forum that acknowledges people's concerns. The Board, a staff member, or a staff presentation would be proper platforms with EUPDATE follow-up. R-E-S-P-E-C-T  

Glad to hear the Fitness Center is also not an expense for STRS Ohio, at least since 2021.  Undeniable Fact 3: STRS Ohio associates’ activities, including the Buckeye Bash luncheon, are paid from associate contributions. Associates' contributions? Is this a slush fund? Do these funds exist in financial reports or audits? Are they volunteer or mandated? Board members, should you not be asking these questions? 

Finally, the October 2023 STRS News mailing. I understand that a COLA was awarded for FY24 but trust me the document that was sent to homes implied to many, over ten retirees have contacted me, that another 1% is being processed. Quotes: “Board approves 1% cost-of-living adjustment for fiscal 2024.” “The increase will be added...” Again, I understand because I am here. Suggestion, this happened months ago and is in the past. Author the article in the past tense with a clarification statement that some retirees have not yet received the increase due to their date of retirement.  

As always, actives deserve their benefits enhanced and retirees deserve their 3% COLAs.  

Plus, work on R-E-S-P-E-C-T and reinstate the Childcare Center, staff and parents, we’ve lost a treasure. [Had not seen center’s figures until today and the center was never discussed by management publicly until August 2023. The Center situation should have been presented at a Board meeting years ago.] 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Well, if they can rewrite Robert's Rules, they can rewrite Murphy's Law, too. Heck, why not?

From James Carr

October 22, 2023

Murphy's Law:  Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Neville's Law:  It doesn't matter what goes wrong, it only harms teachers, not us.

Trina Kay Prufer: It’s elder abuse because it involves a significant loss of income previously assured.

From Trina Kay Prufer

October 22, 2023

The reality of BENEFIT REDUCTION in retirement - A term we are not using but should.
This is the betrayal factor. Why? Because aging retirees can’t make up the difference. It’s elder abuse because it involves a significant loss of income previously assured. Ohio‘s public workers do not have Social Security as a back up, so benefit reduction is drastic, impactful and cruel. Also, the monthly loss is exponential; without an adequate cola, inflation reduces the benefit by an ever increasing percentage.
So, have any other teacher retirement systems, in non Social Security states, had to reduce benefits? Yes, but rarely, and not to this extent. What separates STRS from the norm is that STRS does not use any metrics (the CPI) to protect retirees from inflation, can make decisions harmful to membership independent of the legislature, and spends money without regard to its fiduciary duties. In short, it acts irresponsibly and not for the benefit of its membership.
How can we fix this? By looking at other states and their policies, especially the protections built into legislation. Other states have reasonable limits, and guardrails, STRS does not. It‘s only by comparing STRS to similar teacher retirement systems that we understand its deviance from the norm. How much time has been devoted to this discussion during recent STRS board meetings? Zero minutes. That tells us why we need fresh ideas and new leadership.

Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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