Saturday, June 22, 2024

Active teacher, Nathan Stewart, voices his concerns to the STRS board

Nathan Stewart: Comments to STRS board 

June 21, 2024

Nathan Stewart, Active teacher Music Teacher, Olentangy Schools, 4 years; transitioned to teaching 6 years ago. 

I am concerned about my pension. 

  • I am concerned that current retirees aren’t receiving their promised COLA.

  • I am concerned that anonymous letters and tips to the governor get more attention than properly filed concerns and complaints. How does that even happen? How do anonymous tips get to the top of the pile?
  • I am concerned that STRS has to spend money marketing themselves as if they are trying to attract customers to a business.

  • I am concerned that the OEA-endorsed reps on this board aren’t doing anything to help the desperate situation and are not for reform, 

  • I am concerned that there even are “endorsed candidates for the STRS board, why should that even be a thing? Why would anyone run who would not WANT to serve the mission of paying teachers benefits? 

  • I am concerned that someone can be dismissed from the board for an allegedly poor attendance record without warning. 

  • I am concerned that an organization that serves public educators would even give performance-based incentives and especially when they can’t even accomplish their mission as promised. 

  • I am concerned that I see my school district’s 14% contribution on my pay stub as it is a benefit for me, but actually it does nothing to enhance my pension. Imagine is my 14% and the district’s 14% were actually working for the members. We’d all be millionaires. 

  • I am concerned that an organization that exists to pay teachers' retirements has lost their way and does not see teachers (both active and retired) as their number one priority.

  • I am concerned that many teachers don’t have the time or the energy to figure out the mess at STRS. Board members, have you been in a classroom lately? 

I am thankful for the reform members and am hopeful that everyone on this board will act in a way will value teachers and the energy, time and talents they invest into the profession. Thank you for listening.

Robin Beebe refreshes the STRS board on some important life's lessons

Robin Beebe's speech to STRS

June 21, 2024  

My name is Robin Beebe. Retired teacher of 4th Graders, Kindergartners, a smattering of other elementary grades, and eight summers of Migrant Education. Fremont City Schools and Perrysburg Schools. 35 years. I retired in 2009 and thus, I have been retired for 15 years now.
I have spent 2/3rds of my teaching career down in “Kinderland” as I fondly call it. It is a very magical place, indeed, full of wonder, discovery and joy. Lucky me!
I think we can all find some insights and truths from Robert Fulghum’s classic book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I want to share some parts of his Credo to inspire and support the Reform Board in your efforts to implement meaningful change as you move forward.
“ All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten.”
“These are the things I learned:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
(See Suzanne Laird for the cookies….)
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint
and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon. (But not during STRS Board Meetings.)
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and
stick together.
….And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you
learned - the biggest word of all – (L-O-O-K) LOOK.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply to your family life or your work (STRS Reform Board work) or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
So….strive to continue to Stick Together Reform Board Members. We all (L-O-O-K) LOOK for great things to happen!!!
P.S. I finally did the painful mathematical calculations and figured out what my lack of receiving my full 3% COLA's has amounted to from 2013 through 2024. I am compelled to share this dollar amount with you today. The reality is a six figure loss of $101,000.00 and counting....
                    HOLY TOLEDO!!!

Friday, June 21, 2024

STRS votes to block bonuses to investing staff, 2 years after $5.3 billion loss

From NBC4i.COM

June 21, 2024 
STRS votes to block bonuses to investing staff, 2 years after $5.3 billion loss
By Mark Feuerborn
June 21, 2024
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — In a move unseen in years for the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, its board narrowly voted to block bonuses to the investment staff.
In a 5-4 vote Friday morning, reformers now making up a majority on the STRS board took their first decisive action since a legal battle where ousted member Wade Steen fought to get his chair back. The board voted to block at least $10 million earmarked for performance-based bonuses for the STRS investment staff, according to Robin Rayfield, the executive director of the Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association.
Investors working for Ohio’s retired teachers’ pension fund have consistently received annual bonuses ranging from $50,000 to more than $300,000 in the past. The bonuses landed even in the fiscal year ending in June 2022, when the  pension fund lost $5.3 billion.  In 2023, the board deliberated  raising the total bonus budget to $11.1 million.
Steen’s return, as well as  Michelle Flanigan’s election to succeed him in September, meant that what active and retired teachers in Ohio called a “mandate for reform” will hold long-term power to make changes at STRS. The  group’s demands include transparency on investments, an end to exorbitant bonuses for the investment staff and a return of promised cost of living increases they were denied for years.
The changes aren’t coming without pushback, however. Board members in favor of the bonuses, including Alison Lanza Falls, expressed concerns before the vote that STRS’ investment staff could resign if they didn’t receive the bonuses.
“When people feel they are not being treated fairly, and we’re talking about the investment staff here and I understand the issue with teachers in here as well, but when people do not feel when they have performance and below 60 percentile, at some point they will vote with their feet,” Falls said.
Multiple retired teachers sitting in the audience of the board meeting yelled in reaction to this statement, including the phrase, “let them walk.”
Steen was previously kicked from the board by Gov. Mike DeWine, before appointing G. Brent Bishop to replace him. But at the beginning of 2024, an  appeals court determined DeWine overstepped his authority in removing Steen from the position.
Still, the governor called for an investigation into the board, claiming there is a hostile takeover by private interests at STRS. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost obliged, and called for the removal of Steen and Rudy Fichtenbaum from the board in May. In disclosing findings from his investigation, he accused the pair of colluding to “peddle to STRS a secretive and untested investment scheme” that would “spell disaster for Ohio teachers” — accusations both members emphatically deny. 
Rayfield noted that the board scheduled a special meeting in July to discuss what to do about the investors’ bonuses, called PBI, going forward. 
Read this article online here.


From ORTA Newsletter

Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association
June 2024
Message from ORTA President Dean Dennis with some great explanations to help you understand "The Mess" (at STRS) 
Greetings, Members!
I hope everyone enjoys the summer months ahead of us.
This is usually a time when everything slows down, and we can relax. I think all of us are looking forward to being able to do so, but there are a few things ahead of ORTA that are very important and need to be shared.
Watch for ORTA in the news, as our presence is steadily increasing. We’re making waves with our advocacy work, and our positions of transparency in investments are being recognized more than ever. However, whenever a change is called for, it is often met with resistance. This has been the case. Last year, when the reform-minded ORTA-endorsed candidate won the STRS Board seat, Governor DeWine unsuccessfully tried to replace him. It was strongly suspected that STRS management lobbied the Governor for this change. However, the STRS executive director claimed that wasn’t the case. 
When the ORTA-endorsed candidate won the STRS Board seat this year, the press reported that an “anonymous” 14-page STRS management letter was delivered to the Governor’s office. The Governor sent the 14-page “anonymous” letter to the Ohio Attorney General’s (AG) office to investigate. Without so much as contacting any of the parties mentioned in the “anonymous” letter, the AG filed a lawsuit against the two reform-reform-minded Board members named in the letter.
The “anonymous” STRS letter also insinuated that ORTA was involved in what was claimed to be “a hostile takeover of a public. system by private interests.” The STRS rhetoric was ridiculous; the pension system belongs to members, not to the STRS management. Members have made it clear through their votes that they support transparent investments, not the opaque investment practices that have led us down the path of clawing back promised benefits.
So why is STRS management suddenly so afraid of ORTA? This fear has been slowly building. As our members suffered the significant repercussions of their benefits being clawed back, ORTA stepped up their advocacy for members. Over the past few years, ORTA has reinvented itself to inform members and the public how STRS members are suffering from a system that is on a path to survival by reneging on benefits while continuing with the same investment practices. 
In 2021, the ORTA website garnered 5,445 webpage views for the entire year. Last month, in May of 2024, the ORTA website received 12,097 webpage views alone, more than double the views for the entire 2021 year. ORTA is clearly getting its message out to members and the public. Recently, ORTA released the following Position Statement to quell rumors and fears and make matters clear:
ORTA’s mission is to monitor, advocate for, and protect its members’ pension and benefits. The Association shall encourage individuals to improve the social and economic changes and issues relevant to their retirement.
ORTA will endorse STRS Ohio Board Candidates who actively advocate for transparency of investments and business practices for the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio Pension System. Transparency of Investment practices shall not conflict with Ohio Revised Code 3307.15. In particular, Section 3307.15. (e), states, “Any statement of financial position distributed by the board shall include the fair value, as of the statement date, of all investments held by the board under this section.”
ORTA believes that once elected, Board members serving as our fiduciaries must adopt the prudent investor approach and avoid any investments where the investment’s fair value cannot be independently determined. ORTA supports Board Members and STRS Management in exploring investments and investment approaches that might bring additional revenues into the pension plan to restore, maintain, or enhance member benefits. ORTA encourages the Board to predetermine a reasonable dollar allocation while vetting such investments or approaches so as not to jeopardize the fiscal integrity of the pension system."
I’ll circle back to why STRS management is at odds with ORTA. To simplify, STRS has an active management model. This means STRS is more hands-on in investments. This results in hiring a larger investment staff. This staff tries to beat the market. STRS staff now has over 20% of your monies in Private Equity investments and nearly 10% in Real Estate (the majority in commercial real estate in large cities). Commercial Real Estate investments are dropping in value and are largely ill-liquid. Private equity investments have high fees and non-disclosure agreements, so they cannot be audited by our board. STRS is top-heavy in these risky investments compared to other public pension systems. 
ORTA knows that over 90% of all investment firms lose to the market when trying to beat it. No one beats the market every year. So, ORTA takes issue with how the STRS investment staff seems to beat their performance-based benchmarks every year and earns large bonuses while members suffer. ORTA also has difficulty understanding why STRS members in the Defined Contribution Plan, who select their investments from an array of transparent index fund investment choices, fare better than the members in the Defined Benefit Plan under active management who don’t have access to these investments. For example, last year’s Total Fund Return for the members in the Defined Benefit Plan was 7.55%. 
However, members in the Defined Contribution Plan selected from index investment choices that produced returns that ranged from 18.16% in Large-Cap equities, 14.84% in Mid-Cap, 12.23% in Small-Cap, and 17.30% in International equities. The worst targeted blend choice in the Defined Contribution Plan returned 9.07%. ORTA endorses trying to match the market while being diversified and paying the least amount of fees possible. This is the path we need to move towards. So, what is happening now?
There was an Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) meeting a few days before this writing. You can find it online by looking for the Ohio Channel and the June 13, 2024, Ohio Retirement Council meeting. [Link:] The ORSC meeting clearly focused on STRS’s problems, but what problems? While watching the meeting, I had a question: what are they reacting to? They seemed focused on the actions of the STRS Board and seemed to be questioning their governance. Members know all too well that the mess at STRS has been going on for years. This is why the problems at STRS are currently front and center. 
The mess at STRS stemmed from the boards’ collective governance over the past 10 to 15 years. The new current “reform-minded” board had nothing to do with the mess of the past. This board has effectively been in existence for approximately 2 months. At the ORSC June 13 meeting, the main invitee was from Funston Advisory Services, primarily led by Chief Operating Officer Randall Miller. I found him knowledgeable but was concerned about the questions being directed toward him by ORSC members. 
Too many of the questions seemed based on the anonymous 14-page STRS letter to the Governor. The questions should have been more focused on how STRS got to the point where a $90 billion pension system is the only one of five in Ohio pension systems that cannot provide a COLA. It was curious how many times ORSC members alluded to legislative action. It was interesting when ORSC Chair Romancuk asked Fuston about the makeup of public pension boards. Funston stated that they believed having member representation on a board was important. In my mind, the ORSC questioning led Randall Miller from Funston to eventually say, “Sometimes you have to change the rules of the game.”
At the end of the meeting, ORSC Chair Romanchuk appointed himself to an ORSC STRS Subcommittee. Chair Romancuk also named Vice Chair Phil Plumber, Representative Brown Piccolantonio, and Governor DeWine appointee Dr. Podojil. It looks like we will find out if Governor DeWine is sincere about fixing our pension or will try to maintain the status quo.
On an optimistic note from the ORSC meeting, Funston clarified that the COLA in the hands of the STRS Board, instead of in the hands of the Ohio Legislature, was unusual and likely a mistake. Funston also noted that a lack of transparency in Private Equity investments and identified their fee structure as a problem. Another problem identified was that our employer’s contribution rate significantly lagged other state pension systems, and it’s impossible to control benefits and unfunded liabilities if not given the proper tools. As always, ORTA is fighting for you and a safe pension.

From ORTA Newsletter

Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association

June 2024

Message from ORTA's Executive Director, Dr. Robin Rayfield, on the work that lies ahead of ORTA, regarding STRS

Greetings ORTA Faithful,

The STRS board is scheduled to meet on June 20 this month. As usual ORTA will have a strong presence at the meeting voicing our advocacy for all STRS members. I have been in communication with several leaders of the STRS Members Only and STRS Ohio Watchdogs Facebook groups over the last several weeks. As most everyone knows, the folks at STRS are not happy that most of the board members at the present time are in favor of reforming STRS.
This will be a long and difficult battle as the current staff at STRS are not in favor of reform efforts. When you think of the current efforts to reform our pension system, it is no surprise that the leadership of STRS are not in favor of changes. With the salaries of the leadership far exceeding the ‘going rate’ for compensation of pension employees across the country, reform can only mean one thing…
Reductions in salary and in the number of people employed. Remember, every time STRS went through 'reform' the result was:
•  Reductions of benefits to retirees
•  Increases in contributions from active STRS members
•  Increases in the number of years of service required to receive benefits
•  Elimination of any inflation protection for retirees
•  Steady, increases in employee salaries and bonuses
•  Reduction in transparency, and growth of alternative investments enabling employees and Wall St. investors to grab more in fees and payments
Now that the cows have given all the milk that they have, the people getting rich off our pension system resist changes to the system that works so well for everyone but the people that pay into the system.
So where does this leave the retirees and active educators? It leaves us with the significant task of forcing reforms to our system. Please remember that it took decades of mismanagement and corruption to get where we are. It will take years (not decades) to set things right. The reform board will make necessary changes; however, these changes will take time to have the necessary impact to make a significant impact. Our struggle is against a leadership team at STRS that will not accept any change without a fight.
The governor, the A.G., and the appointed members of the STRS board want so desperately to hold on to control of the $90+ billion in our pension system. Wall St. kicks back so much money to politicians in Ohio that depend on Wall St. contributions. We are in a great position to force reforms, but each change will be a battle.
What changes does ORTA want to see in the STRS pension program?
A commitment to transparency. Sharing all information concerning our pension program including the fees and costs associated with our alternative investments. With nearly $20 billion invested in alternative investments our board members need to have access to these documents.
Moving our investments from high cost, active management to low- cost passive management (index-based portfolios). This will provide greater returns to the pension system.
Lowering the costs associated with the pension system. Currently, our employees earn significantly higher salaries and bonuses than similar pension employees across the country. Selling off the real estate portfolio and closing the four satellite offices around the country along with reduction of the costs associated with the STRS building. Either sell the building or rent out a large portion of the building on Broad St.
Changing the culture at STRS from prioritizing the staff at STRS to prioritizing the membership of STRS. Currently, the policies at STRS emphasize the employees over the people that paid in to the system or are currently paying in to the system.
Working to bring more money into the system. Convincing the state legislature to increase the employer contributions, or seeking additional revenues from the state to support educators is essential to having a quality retirement system for educators. Having the lowest level of support for educators in the country is not helping. Nor is diverting over a billion dollars from public education to private, for- profit education helping the current situation.
We have a lot of work ahead of us. ORTA will continue to advocate STRS members. If the political powers currently in charge choose to fight against teachers, they run the risk of losing teacher support at the ballot box.

Cathy Steinhauser's words for STRS: When State Auditor Keith Faber reported to the ORSC a few years ago after his office audited STRS he recommended no bonuses, challenged alternative investments and stood up to mismanagement. So do your fiduciary duty for us teachers and FIX IT!!

Cathy Steinhauser's speech to STRS

June 21, 2024

Cathy Steinhauser – 35 yrs., satellite teacher of Family & Consumer Sciences through Pickaway /Ross CTC for Circleville City Schools.

Yesterday was a very long day for everyone in attendance. It was frustrating to pension members in attendance as well as those listening and watching on Zoom that several board members still haven’t grasped the true meaning of what a bona fide fiduciary is!  You’ve even received some “schooling” in the qualities that justify a true fiduciary. Somehow several of you sitting here in this board room either continue misunderstanding it or refuse to accept what it means or just plain don’t care…and I’m thinking the latter.
Let me remind you for the 17th time…YES, SEVENTEEN TIMES I HAVE EXPLAINED IT IN THE SIMPLEST OF TERMS AND MANY OF YOU HAVE CONTINUED TO FLUNK THE TEST OF PUTTING WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED OR SHOULD HAVE LEARNED INTO PRACTICE. You see, as a fiduciary, you are to put the teachers FIRST in every decision that you vote on for our pension. Your fiduciary duty is NOT to the STRS staff or investment group…it is the teachers.  Every time you consider giving bonuses or raises to the staff or investment group before the teachers get a COLA, you are breaching your duty to us and should be removed.  Our needs come first before anyone else’s and you are to conduct yourselves as proper fiduciaries as you consider how you are going to take care of us teachers. This pension and your job would not exist if it weren’t for the teachers. One of the best fiduciaries on this board has said many times “STRS exists to pay benefits” and I’m adding “even the COLA”.
Many of you who work at STRS have never been teachers. You don’t understand what we have been through in our 30-35+ yrs. of service to the children in Ohio. Teaching is one of the toughest yet rewarding jobs ever. Some drawbacks we have had to make do without are classroom supplies, books, technology, equipment, salary cuts/freezes to save jobs – sometimes for years, behavior issues from students, dealing w/parents, long hours making lesson plans and grading papers, lack of support from administration, extra duties w/o compensation as well as meager classroom budgets. Teachers have always done more with less. STRS employees have never had to do without and that mindset needs to change. PBI should not exist because in essence it reminds many of the “give everyone a trophy” so they don’t get their feelings hurt. Teachers have never had a bonus, we had a set salary scale and did our jobs as expected every day and then some. Employees should get a set salary, do the job and if they don’t like it, they can leave and find employment elsewhere…employees can be replaced in the job market…it happens all the time!
When State Auditor Keith Faber reported to the ORSC a few years ago after his office audited STRS he recommended no bonuses, challenged alternative investments and stood up to mismanagement. So do your fiduciary duty for us teachers and FIX IT!!

Robin Rayfield to STRS, June 21, 2024: "Instead of putting the interests of the staff above the membership of the pension, for once put the members first."

From Robin Rayfield

June 21, 2024

Good morning. My name is Robin Rayfield, and I am a STRS retiree and the Executive Director of ORTA.
As I travel around the state meeting with STRS retirees, each local chapter of ORTA recognizes the passing of members of that chapter. I am amazed each time the names of people that have passed are read. My purpose for telling you this is that I want you to understand that time is a precious commodity for retired teachers.
Teachers across Ohio have clearly demanded change at STRS. Reform for an organization that has never had meaningful oversight and has no capacity to reform itself will face many obstacles on the road to reform. Despite electing a majority of board members committed to reforming STRS, the self interest of STRS management, highly paid investment staff, and consultants direct their efforts at impeding reform at STRS. These same people have even enlisted the help of high-ranking elected officials to thwart reforms at STRS.
As I listened to the discussion about PBI yesterday and today, I heard something to the effect that ‘We owe our investment staff the PBI as they are undercompensated’ or ‘These people deserve to know what the PBI structure is before they begin the work’. I find it interesting that the employees of STRS are ‘deserving’ of what their PBI will be and that STRS investment staff should be paid PBI as they have earned it. I agree that people should be paid what they are promised.
Unfortunately, STRS management is adamant that employees should be paid fairly, but retirees do not receive what they were promised. Using ‘they earned the bonus or bonus is really just part of their compensation’ falls flat when you are talking to someone whose guaranteed benefits have been reduced by 30%. Would it be fair to cut the PBI by 30% or more?
At any rate, the concept of urgency is important to incorporate into the language at STRS. Last year it was imperative that bonuses be paid before the alternatives were valued. It had to be done, it must have been urgent.
Now for the 3,500 retirees that will pass this year (because they were out of time) your lack of urgency failed them. Instead of putting the interests of the staff above the membership of the pension, for once put the members first.

Suzanne Laird's famous "Aw, hell no" speech to STRS, June 21, 2024

From Suzanne Laird

June 21, 2024
My name is Suzanne Laird.
I won’t bother to list all my credentials and experience, since apparently, I am not considered a “professional” around here…….
You want to know what I consider unprofessional?
An Interim Director who argues harder for her own raises and her “professional’s” bonuses than she does for the people she purportedly represents: the highly accomplished educators of Ohio.
Your contempt for us was never more evident than it was yesterday.
Your contempt was matched only by the arrogance of a Board member who threatened to “cut off the microphones” of the audience. We are not your audience. Our very lives depend on the decisions made here and we will be heard.
You both continually mention the 534,000 teachers as though they are some nameless numbers. Those people behind the glass wall and online listening are ten times more professional than the appointee who yelled, “Awww, hell no” during a public vote last month. And since the highly paid parliamentarian didn’t bother to speak up, I guess that behavior is acceptable.
So, we say, “Aw, hell no” to granting raises and bonuses when our actives work longer for less, and our retirees sink further into poverty without a permanent, ongoing COLA.
We say, “Aw, hell no” when the Director claims she cut bonuses, only to reveal she raised the commensurate salaries.
We say, “Aw, hell no” when the investment bros attempt to convince us they deserve bonuses for losing money in real estate, private equity, and alternatives.
We say, “Aw, hell no” to the Attorney General trying to intimidate our best Board members.
We say, “Aw, hell no” to anonymous, inflammatory letters to the dishonorable Governor, attempting to undermine our efforts.
And we will say, “Aw, hell no” to any Board member who stands in the way of reform.

Joan Bellner's speech (and some words of advice) to STRS board, June 21, 2024

From Joan Bellner

June 21, 2024

First of all, I would encourage all of you to truly engage in your roles as Board members & staff and STOP the perception that there are two sides to STRS… & that every question or new idea is an attack. Everyone at STRS– and beyond– must do his/ her part to obliterate this “two sides” idea– and begin to work together to ensure that our membership– both active and retired– is properly taken care of and that OUR fund is getting the biggest bang for its buck.

We ARE approaching 1:1 status and are becoming a mature fund; but, we are not quite there yet. The maturity of the fund needs to be considered–but not used as an excuse. It just means veteran Board members and staff need to get more creative in what you do. It wasn’t a surprise that the fund would get here–
EVERYONE at STRS should have been planning for it all along and for restoring benefits to all of the members– as quickly as possible– once those benefits were suspended.
A Board can– and SHOULD– have differing opinions among members.
Disagreement is an opportunity for insight, learning, understanding, and growth.
I would not expect all of you to be in full agreement all of the time–
But, I do expect three things:
1) Everyone on this Board and on the staff takes the reform concerns seriously and truly listens– considers the facts.
2) In the general meetings and in executive sessions, you’d either turn off -or- better yet, collect ALL cell phones in a basket, so that everyone is paying full attention to every discussion.
And, thirdly:
That every veteran Board member and staff member will listen for understanding– not simply to respond.
Winston Churchill said it best: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Our membership is a passionate group. You must look past our anger & frustrations and see reality. You all must see, as some of you do, that finding a way to restore benefits is vital.
Many of our membership are dying without the pensions they thought they were getting. Many older retirees are living below the poverty level– not traveling the world, as some would have you believe.
Many actives cannot invest much besides the 14% they are contributing, because all have rising expenses for essentials, and many are raising families.
Most single– and many married– actives I know hold at least two jobs to make ends meet.
Current scientific studies, like those done by Rand and the AERA, show that the field of education is one of the most, if not THE most, stressful professions in the U.S.
Educators are twice as stressed as any other profession, including even active duty military. Educators are also 30-40% more likely to experience symptoms of Anxiety, compared to all other professions.
Our retirement should not add to that stress.
Thank you.
Joan Bellner
Retired member of STRS; 33 years of experience upon retirement, 1.5 years employed since (to make up for no COLAs in the first five years)

Edward Siedle exposes a shocking truth: "Looting in secrecy is rampant at public pensions across the nation. Ohio teachers are pension warriors leading the fight against it."

Pension Warriors by Edward Siedle

Ohio Politicians Rally To Crush Teachers Seeking State Pension Transparency- Private Equity Power Stays In The Shadows
This battle is all about whether Wall Street private equity managers can continue to loot Main Street public pensions in secret--flouting state laws requiring public scrutiny.

Watch this Tik Tok Video (turn on sound) from the movie Oppenheimer for a clue on who’s really pulling the strings in Ohio. Hint: It’s not teachers. 
Amateurs seek the sun. Get eaten. Power stays in the shadows. 
Also read: 
Ohio Teachers Lead The Fight To Restore Integrity To State Pensions 
Governor DeWine and his cronies have rallied to thwart a valid teacher pension board election and support Wall Street secrecy schemes looting our nation's public pensions.
Pension warriors participating in the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio have done a masterful job over the past 5 years organizing (through their Facebook groups and without union support), investigating and advocating for transparency at their pension. They have fought valiantly to restore integrity to a state teacher fund that has increasingly operated in secret for the financial and political benefit of others, including its bloated, richly compensated staff and Ohio elected officials. That’s not the way pensions are supposed to be run, i.e., for the sole or exclusive benefit of participants.
But this is far more than an Ohio story.
At this moment, STRS Ohio participants are leading a national crusade to eliminate Wall Street secrecy schemes at all public pensions across the nation. (For example, Ohio teachers are currently working with Minnesota teachers to reform that state’s $28 billion teacher plan.)
At this moment, STRS Ohio participants are leading a national crusade to eliminate Wall Street secrecy schemes at all public pension across the nation.
Although disappointing, it is no surprise that Ohio elected officials who depend upon Wall Street for campaign donations to fund their political ambitions have hastily—within days—united to thwart a valid pension board election and oppose overwhelmingly popular teacher transparency reforms. Prompted by bogus claims of a “hostile takeover” of the pension by Governor DeWine, Ohio politicians have predictably rallied to support Wall Street billionaires who have been looting the nation’s public pensions for nearly two decades.
Let’s review what has happened in Ohio in the last few years.
After years of growing distrust, teachers sought out and paid for—with their own funds—a forensic investigation of their pension conducted by the leading pension forensic expert in the world, a former SEC lawyer who has investigated over $1 trillion in retirement plans. Frustrated by lack of answers, they legitimately sought a “second opinion” as to whether the billions set aside for their retirement were being prudently managed.
Who can argue with teachers scrutinizing the fund they depend upon for their retirement security?
The damning findings of that investigation were broadly disseminated to pension stakeholders, including provided to all state officials in Ohio—politicians who implicated in the wrongdoing identified and who did nothing in response to the 127-page expert report. The report was also provided to federal officials at the SEC and FBI.
The Report rightly identified widespread fiduciary breaches, apparent violations of law and mismanagement. For example, the $90 billion pension had not been audited—as required under Ohio law—for the past 16 years. The Ohio Retirement Study Council—as to which Attorney General Yost served as Legal Counsel since 2019—had utterly failed to do its job, leaving the teacher pension and tens of billions in two other Ohio pensions at risk. No Ohio politician disputed this finding—a fiduciary audit was hastily undertaken, entirely in response to the teacher’s forensic investigation. The ORSC actually blamed the 16-year delay on Covid-19 and no state officials, including the Attorney General, was held accountable for this colossal failure.
The forensic audit prompted the State Auditor to conclude it provided a “reasonable basis” for a Special Audit by his office. The Special Audit inauspiciously began by his staff admitting to me they knew nothing about pensions.
True to their word, they knew nothing.
Nevertheless, the Auditor agreed the pension should be fully transparent and that had it been prudently managed, pension assets would have doubled over time from $90 billion to $180 billion today.
There are no secrets here: Since 2021, Ohio teachers have openly fought a “hostile takeover” of their pension by staff, politicians and Wall Street. Looting in secrecy is rampant at public pensions across the nation. Ohio teachers are pension warriors leading the fight against it. 
Read this article online here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Toledo Blade Editorial: Oversight requires transparency

Toledo Blade

June 18, 2024 
Blade Editorial: Oversight requires transparency
Ohio pensions provide Wall Street soothsayers more than $60 billion without even knowing what investments they’ve purchased.
The Ohio Retirement Study Council is joining the party of state officials awakening to their responsibility to safeguard the public pensions they have mismanaged or ignored for years.
The Ohio Retirement Study Council is joining the party of state officials awakening to their responsibility to safeguard the public pensions they have mismanaged or ignored for years.
A special subcommittee of the ORSC legislative oversight body has been created to address issues at the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio.
Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost claim board members Wade Steen and Rudy Fichtenbaum violated their fiduciary duty through advocacy for an investment with a Columbus startup investment firm. The idea never got beyond the proposal stage.
Somehow, Governor DeWine, A.G. Yost, and the ORSC all ignored the issue when it occurred in November of 2021. The issue is raised now in a courtcase to remove Mr. Steen and Mr. Fichtenbaum because the balance of power on the STRS board has shifted to members who favor changing the investment portfolio to low-cost index funds and who want full transparency on the contracts STRS has with outside fund managers.
If Mr. Steen and Mr. Fichtenbaum are banished, power will be returned to the status quo protective board members. For STRS investment staff, individual bonuses totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars depend upon defeating efforts to use market indexes.
STRS is currently seeking a 28.5 percent increase in pension contributions from Ohio taxpayers driven by under performance in investment returns. Yet, in April ORSC released a report concluding STRS investment returns have been “remarkable.”
What’s remarkable is Ohio’s blind acceptance of a pension investment strategy that lags market returns and costs much more to implement.
Since Ohio law changed in 1997 [Am S.B. 82] to allow the high cost, low liquidity investments STRS and the other Ohio pensions have become overly dependent upon, the S&P 500 has returned an annualized 9.22 percent, well above the assumed rate of return the pensions need to stay on track.
Ohio pensions provide Wall Street soothsayers more than $60 billion without even knowing what investments they’ve purchased.
The ORSC had a long presentation on fiduciary duty last week as a result of the STRS controversy. It begs the question, how can fiduciary oversight exist when a large portion of the investment portfolio is totally blind to the board?
Saturday the Wall Street Journal detailed a 15 percent average discrepancy between values claimed by private equity managers and prices paid when the assets were sold. The story indicated pensions across the country are endangered by this fact.
STRS is not unique in its investment portfolio or need for more money from Ohio taxpayers. State lawmakers can grant the pensions request for a billion dollars a year increase to the more than $5 billion currently collected without taking the blame.
Schools and local government’s would be the tax collectors for a long-term failure by state government.
The Ohio Retirement Study Council can finally succeed at oversight by simply proclaiming full transparency, as sought by the STRS reformers, is the required standard for fiduciary oversight.
Read this editorial online: 
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STRS Ohio Board members Rudy Fichtenbaum and Wade Steen are incurring legal fees, defending themselves against the lawsuit brought against them by A.G. Dave Yost. ORTA will use donations from the Pension Defense Fund to help them, if needed, pay their legal expenses. They have volunteered their time to support Ohio's teachers. Now it's time for us to show our support for them! Make a donation today to the ORTA Pension Defense Fund
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ORTA advocates for the pensions and benefits of Ohio's educators, demands accountability from STRS Ohio, and lobbies Ohio's legislators to provide a strong and sustainable retirement system. We rely on membership dues to continue our work. 
Join ORTA!
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