Thursday, December 07, 2023

Toledo Blade weighs in on teachers' unhappiness with management and mistakes at STRS

'A lot of unhappiness': State Teachers Retirement System board hears concerns about bonuses, future

By Debbie Rogers, The Blade Dec. 6, 2023
BOWLING GREEN — The future of the State Teachers Retirement System, its present management, and alleged past mistakes were discussed at a town hall meeting.
More than 100 people packed the Simpson Garden Building for a presentation Tuesday by the board, which has been under scrutiny for giving $10 million in bonuses to investment associates but little increases to retired teachers.
Stephen Seagrave, president-elect for Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association, came from Delta, Ohio, to speak to the board.
“There’s a lot of active and retired teachers who are at the short end of the stick because of the management of STRS,” he said before the meeting started. “There’s a lot of unhappiness.”
Much of the angst stems from when the STRS eliminated annual cost-of- living increases and changed the full retirement years of service from 30 to 35, Mr. Seagrave said.
In the meantime, bonuses continue to be paid to the investment team, he said.
“STRS sets goals on investing and then pays bonuses, which sounds reasonable. But if you set your goal at 7 percent when the market is doing 12 percent, then you end up rewarding people for failure,” Mr. Seagrave said. “And the bonuses given last summer? I mean, they had one person get a bonus of $232,000.”
Lynn Hoover, acting executive director, said bonuses are paid to eligible investment associates, not all staff. Those associates were paid $10 million in bonuses in 2022 and $9 million in bonuses in 2023, she said.
The STRS board has studied hiring money managers instead of the associates, Ms. Hoover said.
“We would spend $130 million per year — more — if we hired Wall Street managers,” she said. “There’s no free lunch around investment management.”
Ms. Hoover said it is unfair to look at the successful years of the stock market but not the unsuccessful ones.
“If I would have invested in the S&P 500 during the ’08, ’09 years, it would have been catastrophic,” she said. “Prudent investing is to be well diversified.”
Ms. Hoover gave an overview of the STRS, beginning with its successes in the 1990s.
“We wish we could have markets like this all the time. The markets were really steadily rising. We got all the way up to 97.9 percent in 2000,” she said. “That’s almost 100 percent funded.”
The next 10 years had two significant market declines, Ms. Hoover said.“We were at 55 percent funded, which is honestly a pretty scary state,” she said, adding that there were benefit cuts and pension reform. 
It is 80 percent funded today. 
Ms. Hoover’s presentation was interrupted by a woman in the back of the room.
“Why do the people in Columbus get raises and the teachers don’t get any?” she asked. 
Many in the audience were also concerned about a proposal to ask the school districts/employers for more contributions to STRS. The current contribution is 14 percent.
“That increase on employer contributions is inevitably going to affect active teachers’ abilities to negotiate for higher annual raises,” said Doug Kollman of Perrysburg. 
Dale Price, chairman of the board and a Toledo Public Schools teacher, said a larger contribution from employers could allow STRS to lower the retirement age. 
“So older teachers like me will retire. When I retire, they can hire three brand new teachers to replace me. And that’s where the districts are going to save money,” Mr. Price said. 
Don Christie, executive director of human resources with Perrysburg Schools, disagreed. 
“If we have to give more as a district, we will not be able to hire those teachers, even if they reduce the age down,” he said, adding that the pool of teachers is also decreasing. “As I’m recruiting teachers, the number of teachers coming in now — for a high school science teacher, I might get five applicants." 
“And we’re a destination district in the state of Ohio. I can’t imagine being in a rural district,” Mr. Christie added. 
Joe Stockner of Perrysburg retired from Bowling Green Schools 37 years ago. He lamented the seven years that retired Ohio teachers went without a cost-of-living adjustment. A 3 percent cost-of-living raise was given in 2022, and a 1 percent increase was given this year. 
“Well, bully, bully,” Mr. Stockner said. “COLA has not kept ip." 
About $6 billion in total pension benefits are paid annually in Ohio, Ms. Hoover said. There are 175,032 active members and 156,511 STRS retirees and beneficiaries. 
Wood County has 3,271 active members and 1,983 benefit recipients, receiving $100 million. 
Mr. Price commented on the absence of Executive Director Bill Neville. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office received an anonymous complaint about Mr. Neville, and outside legal counsel advised the STRS board to place him on administrative leave, he said.
Read the rest of the article here

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Lynn Hoover put on the hot seat at Bowling Green Town Hall

Math doesn’t add up – Retired teachers denied 3% COLA increases while some STRS staff get huge bonuses

By Jan Larson McLaughlin
BG Independent News
December 5, 2023
The images of smiling retired teachers on the screen painted a different picture than the reality faced by Kathy Foster, who retired after teaching 32 years in Findlay.
Despite promises from the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, Foster said she has received only one 3% raise since retiring 10 years ago.
“I got one cost of living wage,” said Foster, who lives in Wayne.
Meanwhile, the STRS investment staff has been handsomely rewarded for their work, she said. 
“They have gotten millions of dollars in bonuses,” Foster said. “They lost billions of dollars last year, and they are still getting bonuses.”
“We haven’t gotten the money we were promised. I just want the 3% that I was promised,” she said.
STRS is not being good fiduciaries, said Foster, who in retirement has taken on a part-time job at the Wayne Public Library to make ends meet. “I’m not going to be able to work forever,” she said.
“They keep asking the members and the employers for even more,” while the system is spending money on the slick public relations blitz showing teachers seemingly thrilled with their retirement benefits, Foster said, shaking her head.
Foster was far from alone in her frustration Tuesday evening in Bowling Green during an STRS meeting for retired teachers and those nearing retirement in the region.
Put in the hot seat to answer questions was Lynn Hoover, the acting executive director and chief financial officer of STRS. Hoover was quickly moved to that position last month when an anonymous letter to the board accused the former executive director of impropriety.
Hoover talked about the challenge of providing pensions for so many retirees over such extended periods. She mentioned the oldest retiree in the system at age 108.
“We have to plan for a very long time horizon,” Hoover said.
STRS pays out about $6 billion annually in pension benefits. In Wood County alone, there are 1,983 benefit recipients with total benefits of $100,260,321 annually.
Hoover said she is often asked why changes were made to the pension system, and she points to the burst of the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession. Those left the pension fund at 55%, “which was a pretty scary state,” she said.
That created a need to cut benefits, and resulted in liabilities far greater than assets, Hoover said.
At this point in the presentation, Peg Baker, of Bowling Green, raised her hand. She suggested that Hoover wrap it up with the numbers and charts and instead address the issue that brought nearly 90 people to Tuesday’s meeting.
“Why do the people in Columbus get raises, when the teachers don’t?” Baker asked.
Hoover said she would get to that topic, but first wanted to finish her presentation. She
explained that STRS used to have two active teachers for every one retiree. Those numbers have since flipped, with the system now having one active teacher for every one retiree.
In 2011, investment consultants projected the system would run out of money by 2040 unless pension reform was undertaken. Retirement was pushed beyond 30 years, and COLA raises were put on hold. 
“We never want to go through a pension reform again,” Hoover said.
She then addressed the issue that didn’t require a math teacher to understand and be angered – the large bonuses given as incentive compensation to eligible investment staff at STRS. Hoover said if the investors didn’t perform well, they weren’t rewarded with hefty bonuses.
This year, those bonuses added up to approximately $9 million.
Retirees asked how such raises could be given, when retired teachers were being denied their 3% COLA increases.
Hoover said STRS has looked at outsourcing its investment program to money managers, but found it would cost far more. She said STRS has been discussing bringing in more money by asking school districts to pay more per employee.
One teacher responded by saying school districts won’t be thrilled to do that when they see the bonuses being passed out.
“People aren’t going to be on board with that,” the teacher said.
Another retiree said it’s easy to see why Ohio has a “state full of upset teachers.”
A man who said he is the human resources director for a local school district said asking schools to pay more into STRS for their employees will make it difficult for districts.
“It’s going to come out of our general fund, and I’m not going to be able to hire teachers,” he said.
As he was leaving the meeting, Perrysburg teacher Bill Hilt said the public gathering was valuable to make sure people aren’t comparing oranges and apples.
Read the rest of the article here.
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