Saturday, April 20, 2024

Dan MacDonald to STRS Board: As always, actives need their benefits restored and retirees need permanent living purchasing power, COLA, restored.

Dan MacDonald's speech to STRS

April 18, 2024  

Mr. Chair and members of the Board, good morning.   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.   
At last month’s meeting a big decision was made. Cheiron made its presentation and listedoptions.  During Public Participation amongst fifteen participants, 2 actives and 2 retirees addressed striking a balance and enticements for a teaching career. Personally, I am worried about the creation of a divide between contributing members and retirees.  Board members, you are being closely watched.  Two of you seated up there were not present during Public Participation. One departed toward the end of the Executive Director’s Report, and the other left 14 seconds into the Chair’s statement concerning Public Participation.  Both returned after the lunch break.  Emergencies happen. I hope handed statements are read.   
After lunch the sustainable benefits enhancement plan, the de minimis plan, was shared and, eventually, a vote.  34 years was established.  34 years until 2036 and a 1 percent COLA was really not discussed at all and mentioned only in passing.  Vote 11-0.  For balance, the Board needs to make clear retirees are not forgotten.  The de minimis plan will continue to give de minimis results which yearly will pit contributing members against retirees.  There needs to be developed a financial plan to address the fund’s shortage of funds.  Contributing members should not reach 30 years retirement at the expense of retirees.  Furthermore, contributing members will soon discover no COLA and being screwed by an increase in FAS, YOS, formulary and other reductions, their lesser amounts of pension without COLA will find them battling the same problem that now exists.  Your short-term solution is not addressing the long-term problem.  Add to that, if the legislature passes a 4 percent employer contribution increase spread over 8 years, the fund is still short, better, but short.  All of you are passing the buck down the road and if you truly look at STRS Members Only Forum and STRS Ohio Watchdogs, your constituents do not understand. 
As always, actives need their benefits restored and retirees need permanent living purchasing power, COLA, restored.  
[After Public Participation Board Member Davidson gave me a paper titled 
Spring 2022 – Eliminate Age 60 Requirement $0.9 billion 
Spring 2023 – Temporary 34-year Unreduced Eligibility Period $0.365 billion 
Total Restoration $1.265 Billion  
Spring 2022-One Time 3% COLA $1.6 billion 
Spring 2023-One time 1% COLA $0.460 billion 
Total Restoration $2.96 billion] 
[My add: ACTIVE $0.838 billion Spring 2024 Unreduced retirement at age 34 years permanent, reduced at 29 years. Pretty close keeping in balance, BUT this insight should have been brought up during the public Board meeting for all to know at least one member's thought process.] 

Dan MacDonald's summary of the April 18, 2024 STRS Board meeting (or was it a circus?)


From Dan MacDonald
April 20, 2024
Rob Walters and Dan MacDonald attended the April 18, 20224 STRS Board Meeting.  
Four committees met before the actual Board meeting.  Governance, Audit, Investment, and Legislative. All the committees voted on a chair and reviewed a committee charter document which was to be motioned and voted in the Routine Matters portion of the agenda.  The report out by committees nor the vote on the documents happened. [More to follow.]  
The actual April Board meeting started at 10:35 am with approval of March minutes followed by a presentation by outside consultant Mary Remson, PRP, CPP-T, regarding what is a Retirement Board Committee and what are common procedures. [The Funston Audit pushed the Board to have more active committee work.]  Following, outside consultant AON presented on STRS’s Board move to an Enterprise Performance Risk Management framework which is a holistic approach noted in the Funston Audit to improve the current risk assessment process.   
Public Participation was next.  Ten people spoke.  One active and 9 retirees.  The active spoke on STRS “staying the course” the other nine addressed concerns, including concerns/outcomes of the move from Express Scripts to CVS prescription plan.   
A ninety-minute Executive Session/Lunch break was then declared. Toward the end of the ninety minutes Wade Steen appeared and told the gallery he was back. [Wade Steen went to court after his removal from the Board by Governor DeWine. The court ruled on Thursday morning, 4/18/2024, that he had the right to the seat and Mr. Steen immediately came with the court order to STRS.]  
When the Board returned, the most recent DeWine appointee, Brian Perera, was gone and Wade Steen was in his seat complete with name plaque. Chair Price called the meeting back and Mr. Steen requested he be sworn in once again.  The Chair objected.  The Parliamentarian said no person could take over the meeting when Steen moved to be sworn in. Motions were made.  Comments were made.  Votes went 6-4; Herrington was not present. 
Ultimately, Steen was ceremonially sworn in. When decorum returned, Chair Price altered the agenda to Routine Matters.  No committees reported out, finances and approvals were made. At the end of Routine Matters Chair Price hammered the gavel and declared adjournment without the Board voting to adjourn. [If the video is posted on STRS, watch the end of the meeting.]   
Ultimately the meeting went into a recess, and after a short time a representative of the Attorney General’s Office went to the podium and declared the meeting adjourned and refused to take questions.   
[The Board, STRS, the AG office should be ashamed. We do not know who directed Chair Price to manipulate the meeting to Routine Matters and Adjournment, or whether he did this on his own, but contributing members and retirees deserve non-political, functioning Board meetings.   
The 2024 Budget was not presented [think salary increases]; the 2025 Performance-Based Incentives were not discussed [think major divide]; the Investment Department did not share its monthly review [March a positive 2.02%, investment assets $94.6 billion]; there was no Executive Director’s Report; there was no Disability Review Panel Follow-up [think removing Board members from panel], nor Old/New Business.  In other words, the afternoon agenda was abandoned by the Chair. Chair’s after meeting remarks are below in STRS’s E Update.] 
The next meeting dates are May 15-17, The Board meeting should be May 16th. 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Dean Dennis to STRS Board: ORTA stands ready to help.

Dean Dennis' speech to STRS Board

April 18, 2024

Robin Beebe refreshes STRS Board members on the letters of the alphabet and what they stand for today

Robin Beebe's speech to STRS Board

April 18, 2024

Marilyn Taylor Gerken responds to statements made to the STRS Board in March

Marilyn Taylor Gerken's speech to STRS Board

April 18, 2024 
My name is Marilyn Taylor Gerken, a retired teacher, 37 years.
Thank you, STRS Board, for allowing public participation. I am speaking today to address the Board in response to the statements made to you at the March Board meeting.
A Threat: Clearly not an acceptable means of expressing frustration. Teachers understand—they encounter student threats, bomb threats, active shooter threats, parent threats, and Reduction In Force threats. Teachers in my district voted voluntarily to take a pay freeze to retain teachers, it was the right thing to do. The STRS members face the threat of financial insecurity.
Negative Impacts: The Acting Director described the negative impact on hiring and on associates. STRS has created a negative impact on the financial well-being of the entire STRS membership—some of whom do not yet realize what is being done to them, to our financial security. The financial well-being of STRS employees is intact and their pension, along with the Ohio Cabinet and legislators, remains secure.
Uptick in STRS Public Documents: The STRS members request documents, some are easier to obtain than others. Our discussions are based on information from STRS, the, the Ohio Retirement Study Council, the investigative report from the Ohio Attorney General, and independent fiduciary reports. I am confused and need clarification regarding mis-information.
Enhancements: The Acting Director and her teams label our benefits “enhancements.” George Orwell coined the term double-speak, used in propaganda to confuse, manipulate, and control the narrative. Surely that is not the intent of anyone at STRS. I propose a change to that term to what it actually is—our benefits. Benefits promised, benefits received, benefits reduced, benefits removed, and benefits restored.
Thank you

Cathy Steinhauser to STRS Board: Be the fiduciary you are supposed to be!

Cathy Steinhauser's speech to STRS Board

April 18, 2024

Suzanne Laird to STRS Board: Emulate compassion; emulate Wade

Suzanne Laird's speech to STRS Board

April 18, 2024

Good Morning, Members of My Board:

As a public school teacher in the state of Ohio, I had little time to contemplate the machinations of my retirement system.
And why should I? STRS and OEA told me that everything was fine, just fine……
As an active, I only attended one Board meeting. It was in June, the only month I could have, since these meetings are not held at the convenience of the members. I sat in the back, behind the glass wall, intimidated, as I’m sure was intended.
But as a retiree, forced to substitute in order to afford my pre-Medicare monthly health premium without a COLA, I began to schedule my sub days around Board meetings. And I quickly ascertained that nothing was “fine.”
When I sign in to speak here each month, I state that I represent myself and thousands of others like me. Today, I specifically want you to consider those who retired 15, 20, 30 or more years ago: those who earned very little teaching Ohio’s students, and simply cannot continue to work.
Every month, I make certain to mention the issues particular to those in the field, and now, I am addressing the active teacher reps: of course you are being pressured by your fellow teachers to reduce the number of years and contribution rate, and last month we saw some progress on those issues. Current teachers necessarily are consumed by their workloads and may lack the foresight to realize the ramifications of discontinuing the COLA. I caution all representatives against normalizing a zero COLA once again. Those losses can never be recouped and the repercussions are long term. Ask any retiree.
We are aware that several appointees are beholden to certain demagogues at the statehouse and you may not be capable of grasping the gravity of the retirees’ plight, but we would encourage you to emulate an appointee who recently sat in that chair, one whose own mother was a retired teacher, denied a COLA in her later years; and his own daughter, an active teacher contributing 14% of her salary.
Emulate that compassion.
Emulate Wade.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

ORTA's April Newsletter: All ORTA members need to read this, as do all who are interested in reforming our pension system, STRS Ohio

From ORTA Newsletter

April 16, 2024

From ORTA President Dean Dennis

Greetings Members, here is an update on what ORTA’s leadership has been focusing on. 

April is the month in which ORTA usually conducts their Spring semi-annual Board meetings and this year the meeting will be held at ORTA headquarters in Columbus on April 17th . The second meeting will be held this Fall. In these meetings, representatives from the five Ohio regions come together with ORTA’s Executive Council, review ORTA’s expenses, and budget, and oversee our policies and procedures.
Slated for this meeting will be a proposed change in our bylaws that will allow for more continuity at the leadership level. Currently, the ORTA Executive Committee (EC) comprises a President-Elect, a President, and a Past President. Annually, a Past President drops off the EC and a President-Elect joins the EC. As you can determine, each year brings forward a new EC. This isn’t ideal for leadership continuity. The proposed change facing the Board this April will be whether or not we should increase the terms of each EC member to a two-year term rather than remain at a one-year term.
Next is what is on every retiree's mind, what is happening with the COLA? There is an old joke that drives home the point. It goes like this, “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?” The punchline is “Only one if the light bulb really wants to change.” Our problem is STRS management doesn’t want to change. Their investment practices have essentially remained the same. The STRS management strategy has been to improve their financial health by withholding our COLA and making teachers work longer before they can retire. This is why we need to keep electing Board Members until we have a majority that will move our funds into more transparent investments, such as index investing, and save us from spending unnecessary fees.
World-renowned financial analysis Richard Ennis, State of Ohio Auditor Keith Faber, and former Wright State Economic professor and current STRS Board member Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum all have reviewed STRS’s investments. They all have concluded that are pension plan would have several billions more over the years if they had been investing more into index funds. Currently, STRS has too many billions of dollars tied up in opaque private equity investments. These investments are fraught with high fees, higher investment risks, and for the past decade poorer performance than the general equity market.
On a more optimistic note, STRS Ohio Acting Director Lynn Hoover recently addressed the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC), which is a legislative oversight body, and accurately informed them that although active teacher contributions have increased by 40% their benefits were reduced. The Acting Director then informed the ORSC that STRS will ask the Ohio General Assembly for an Employer Contribution increase. The increase seems to increase the Employer Contribution from 14% to 18%. Note that in other non-Social-Security states, the average Employer Contribution is approximately 24% significantly higher than the current Ohio STRS 14% Employer Contribution which has been stagnant for 40 years. ORTA certainly will get behind this initiative but firmly believes that this is only one piece of the puzzle to restoring the COLA
From ORTA's Executive Director Robin Rayfield
"For over one hundred years, STRS has acted in a manner that ignores the concerns of its membership and seems to hold protecting its highly paid employees as its most important function." 
Greetings ORTA Faithful, 
The long road to reform at STRS has been marked with ups and downs over these last 6 years. On March 26th Wade Steen’s challenge to the governor’s removal of his appointment to the STRS board of trustees. I have said many times that public educators in Ohio have no better friend than Wade Steen. Although we do not know the outcome of this legal challenge, ORTA is confident that we have presented our concerns in a professional and straightforward manner. 
It is important that ORTA continue to stand up to the concerns with the management of our pension system identified over the last several years. For over one hundred years, STRS has acted in a manner that ignored the concerns of its membership and seemed to hold protecting its highly paid employees as its most important function. There was never any evidence of ‘shared sacrifice’ on the part of the STRS management and employees. Since ‘pension reform’ was introduced over a decade ago the net effect is that: 
•  Retirees have experienced severe reductions in benefits
•  Active members pay 40% more, work 5 years longer, and receive the same reduced benefits as retirees
•  Employees at STRS have received extravagant bonus payments (despite losses in the investment area) and steady base salary increases 
Interestingly enough, there are some members of STRS, management employees of STRS, and several STRS board members that offer revisionist narratives that STRS members were never promised an annual COLA , and that our concerns over the lost COLA are ‘sour grapes.’ I can verify that I was indeed promised an annual COLA when I retired in 2012. I can also verify that many friends discussed with me the fact that they retired when they did because they were aware of the change that would prevent them from receiving an annual COLA for 5 years. That was the motivation behind their decision to retire when they did. 
When we have produced the materials provided by STRS that clearly show that a COLA was promised and provided the copies of the laws of Ohio that clearly guarantee annual COLAs to retirees, these people simply say, ‘the laws changed.’ That is what is at the heart of the dispute. ORTA’s stance is that the lawmakers in Ohio cannot retroactively reduce our benefit years after that benefit was earned. That is the rationale behind the claim that STRS has broken its promise to educators in Ohio. 
ORTA is fighting to force STRS and/or the state of Ohio to make good on its promises for a dignified retirement for public school educators. ORTA is convinced that retirees and actives can and should receive what was promised. Long haul battles, such as the one we are fighting, are tiresome and it seems like we are getting nowhere fast. 
I want to remind everyone that just a few years ago there was only one voice at STRS that spoke loudly about fulfilling the promises STRS made to its members, Wade Steen. Now there are five voices that are calling for reforms at STRS. We are one board member short of a majority! We are optimistic that board members seeking reforms at STRS will have a majority when Wade is reseated. 
I have received notes from concerned ORTA members about the level of emails received from ORTA. I am sensitive to people that feel that we are ‘reaching out’ too often to our members. We have similar concerns from people that do not want to receive information from ORTA’s partner AMBA. Please understand that we are aware of these concerns and trying to find a balance with this issue. 
Of course, with the STRS election underway, ORTA’s endorsed candidate, Michelle Flanigan will have supporters that also reach out. ORTA wants to assist Michelle, as the stakes are extremely high for our members. If you are concerned by the number of emails you receive from ORTA, please contact the ORTA office at 614-431-7002 or and we will remove you from our list. 
If you want to know more about the battle we are waging for reform at STRS please check out the ORTA website at  
I received a call from an ORTA member in March who asked, ‘What does ORTA do for its members?’ This person was upset that he receives unwanted mail from ORTA selling insurance products. His concerns are understandable in that we all receive unwanted marketing mail from a variety of sources. Every day I receive mail enticing me to purchase car warranty offers, political campaigns materials, low interest credit card offers, and more. 
ORTA certainly cannot help with many of these unwanted solicitations; however, ORTA can help with people receiving unwanted offers for insurance products from our partner AMBA. Simply call or email ORTA if you do not want to receive these offers and ORTA will have you removed from the mailing list. All we need is your name and address and we can remove you from the contact list. 
The conversation with the person who called also asked a specific question, ‘What does ORTA do for its members?’ My response was ‘Advocacy.’ ORTA is fighting to reform STRS and provide the benefit that was promised during your career. Listed below are some of the more observable actions taken on behalf of retirees and active contributors of the STRS pension system: 
•  ORTA spoke out against the loss of benefits in 2017. ORTA fought hard to change the original ‘pension reform’ language from elimination of COLA to suspension of COLA. This change forced STRS to reconsider the loss of COLA in 2022 leading to a 3% COLA.
•  ORTA attends every STRS board meeting and speaks out against the mismanagement that is commonplace at STRS. We have challenged the payment of PBI (bonus) to investment staff that have not met true benchmarks.
•  ORTA collected financial contributions for the Edward Siedle Forensic Audit. This audit and his report, The High Cost of Secrecy, shed light on the opaque investment strategies at STRS and exposed previously hidden fees and costs with the investments of our retirement funds. The forensic audit triggered an audit by the State of Ohio Auditor’s Office that confirmed STRS loses money each year when compared to a less expensive, passive, index-based investment strategy.
•  Through the efforts of Mr. Siedle, ORTA seeks to learn what the fees and costs associated with investments at STRS are. Mr. Siedle’s report confirmed that the fees and costs associated with $20 billion are not known by anyone other than the STRS management. Not even the STRS board members are allowed to know this information!
•  ORTA has endorsed successful, ‘reform minded’ candidates to the STRS board. The last five people elected to the STRS board are people ORTA endorsed. Without the illegal interference of Governor DeWine, the reform-minded members of the STRS board would hold a majority. Any of the reforms that have been accomplished have been achieved with the support of ORTA.
•  With regards to the illegal removal of Wade Steen (pro-teacher member of the STRS board), ORTA established the Pension Defense Fund to assist in the legal challenges STRS members face. Our efforts have been successful. Wade Steen’s challenge to DeWine’s removal action resulted in a 10th District Magistrate’s ruling that the governor does not have the authority to replace Steen without cause. On March 26, the magistrate’s ruling was heard by a three judge panel that seemed to agree with the magistrate’s ruling. We will not know until this panel confirms this in the future; however, Mr. Steen’s legal team remains confident.
•  ORTA is currently endorsing Michelle Flanigan for a seat on the STRS board. The election materials were mailed on April 1st . We hope that you will encourage your active contributor friends to vote for Michelle Flanigan.
•  ORTA has also lent its support to the Vouchers Hurt Ohio group. You may be aware that the majority party in the Ohio Legislature and the Governor are financing private schools. Each dollar that goes from the public to private schools not only hurts our system of public education, but this transfer from public schools to private schools has a dramatic impact on the funding STRS receives. 
In closing, I also want to mention that ORTA also attempts to keep our members informed and aware of any news related to our pension. ORTA has built relationships with both Facebook groups dedicated to providing information about the STRS pension system. Working with Ohio STRS Member Only Forum and STRS Ohio Watchdogs, our messages are getting out. The process of reforming a pension system that is one hundred years old and holds over $90 billion is slow. ORTA’s goal is to influence this reform to help all educators in Ohio, retired and active.

Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association

250 E Wilson Bridge Rd, Worthington, OH 43085

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Edward Siedle: When Wall Street Gets Paid Money For Doing Absolutely Nothing

Private equity managers charge lavish fees on committed, uninvested capital because sheepish investors let them.

I am America's leading forensic expert investigating pension and retirement plans. My mission is to prepare you to fight to protect the retirement benefits you were promised.
APR 13, 2024
Question: What’s better than getting paid 1% to manage people’s money?
Answer: Getting paid 2% to not manage it—for doing nothing. 
In certain niches of the money management industry it is common practice for managers to charge (and investors to pay) fees—typically 2%—on money merely committed to a venture—money the manager does not even manage yet. 
This amounts to adding insult to injury since these types of alternative investment funds already charge exponentially higher fees than traditional stock and bond managers. 
In 2017, reportedly fees  on committed, uninvested capital were the norm in private equity funds. That is, 91% of private equity managers demanded investors pay fees today on money investors had committed to invest over time, say, over the next 10 years. 
In my opinion, there is no justification for these bogus fees that virtually all private equity managers charge, and investors pay without objection. 
When, in my forensic investigations, I bring hundreds of millions in fees paid on committed, uninvested capital to the attention of supposedly savvy institutional investors (aka fiduciaries overseeing other people's money), initial disbelief and embarrassment swiftly turns to defensiveness. 
For example, included in my forensic investigation of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio was the shocking finding that the pension paid an estimated $143 million in fees on committed uninvested capital.
That’s an awful lot of money for doing nothing—indeed, it was enough to restore the COLA benefit that had been taken from teachers to 2 percent. STRS Ohio’s experts defended the lavish payments, claiming paying hundreds of millions to Wall Street for doing nothing was no different than paying teachers over the summer months! Ohio teachers were outraged! 
When these payment schemes are exposed to the public, pension officials (victims) and Wall Street (perpetrators) quickly agree there’s nothing wrong with underfunded pensions paying hundreds of millions to Wall Street for nothing. 
Victims and perpetrators quickly agree there’s nothing wrong with failing pensions paying hundreds of millions to Wall Street for nothing.
Private equity managers charge fees on committed, uninvested capital because they can—because they’ve convinced sheepish investors these funds will produce stellar returns. 
Here’s what State of Ohio Auditor Keith Faber had to say about the practice in his Special Audit of the STRS pension—an investigation prompted by my forensic review:
“The STRS Board could adopt (emphasis added) a new PE investment policy where they only commit capital to investment opportunities that have already been identified. While these deals would eliminate paying fees prior to investing cash, they would also limit the deals to which STRS had access. There are trade-offs in any investment strategy and both the current or hypothetical approaches could be reasonably supported or criticized. As long as management makes a knowledgeable decision and are transparent with the Board, these decisions are within management’s discretion.” 
An intelligent investor focuses on fees because, unlike performance, fees are the one thing the investor can control. 
On the other hand, many so-called "sophisticated" investors don’t focus on, or give a damn about, fees. They will pay anything if they believe a money manager is going to make them big money. 
Ironically, I have observed that the more underfunded a pension, the more willing it is to pay outlandish fees—to gamble itself out of a hole. 
As we saw in Madoff, many investors, even today, can be persuaded they’re lucky to have their money managed by the priciest gunslingers. 
So, the lesson is, if a money manager's sales pitch is good enough, he can even get away with outrageously high fees for doing nothing. 
The sky’s the limit.

From ORTA: Request for STRS Public Records: Denied!

From ORTA  Blog

April 14, 2024

From ORTA: Request for STRS Public Records: Denied!
Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 149.43(B)(1):
On or about February 27, 2024, an Ohio teacher requested copies of any and all petitions (the “Petitions”) submitted for the 2024 election for one contributing (active) seat on the STRS Ohio retirement Board.
STRS Ohio denied the request.
Read the Verified Petition for Peremptory a Writ for Mandamus submitted to the Franklin County Clerk of Courts on April 11, 2024 and the Motion for Expedited Hearing. 
We have highlighted some of the key points.
We will post updates as this case proceeds. 
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
Division III
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