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STRS needs to build partnerships with organizations like ORTA

Members of ORTA were well represented at the December 2023 meeting of the STRS Ohio Retirement Board. Addressing the Board during Public Participation were Robin Rayfied (Executive Director), Dean Dennis (President), and Stephen Seagrave (President Elect). Here are their speeches.


 


ORTA stands ready to serve as a respected partner to the leaders of our pension system


Good morning. My name is Robin Rayfield. I am a retired STRS member and Executive Director of the Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association.


I thank you for the opportunity to address the STRS Board and want you all to know that the opportunity to hear from the membership is important to not only the individuals that choose to participate but to the thousands that are unable to speak here.


I have been critical of the way STRS has operated in the past. Along with my critical comments I have also offered to work with the board and or leadership at STRS to address the concerns I have presented. Please know that the offer to work with STRS remains. Our goal is to improve the current conditions facing our retirement system.


To work with STRS leadership, ORTA must be considered a part of the solution, not the primary source of conflict for STRS. Our concerns are often rejected without consideration due to the animus that has grown between ORTA members and STRS. When our concerns or suggestions are simply rejected or ignored, it is difficult to build a working relationship. 


If the elections for board seats are any indication of the level of satisfaction of the membership, STRS needs to build partnerships with organizations like ORTA. 


Recently, ORTA communicated to STRS management our support for the employer increase being promoted by STRS. This increase, however, is not likely to gain support in the legislative arena without significant reforms by the board at STRS. Taxpayers will not support more money with the current state of things. 


We have voiced suggested reforms previously, but these suggestions have fallen on deaf ears on the slimmest of majority of the board. It is time that the suggestions from people like me, and people seeking reform that sit on this very board are examined and receive sincere consideration before being rejected because of personal differences of opinion or allegiance to another cause. 

Going on a statewide PR tour or posting ‘feel good’ videos have not moved the needle in the direction of satisfaction of the membership. 


ORTA’s goal is to improve and reform STRS. Retirees should get what they were promised or at least more of what they were promised. Actives should not face a future that includes working far longer than promised. 


Again, ORTA stands ready to serve as a respected partner to the leaders of our pension system.


Robin Rayfield, Executive Director

Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association


 

As a Board, you need to step up to the plate and make the needed managerial changes to gain the public's confidence


My name is Dean Dennis, 35 years Cincinnati Public, President of ORTA, Founder of the STRS Ohio Watchdogs, and member of the Ohio STRS Members Only Forum.


Driving home yesterday from our ORTA Executive Council Meeting I was able to catch some of the Board meeting. I listened to the Board talking about communicating and building trust with one another.  I listened to the conversation about public participation and I listened to the discussion about STRS adopting a "Strategic Plan." 


STRS members need a reliable pension plan; one that allows them to plan for the future. They don't have one.  If you were to ask members what is the current STRS's "Strategic Plan" they would probably say, STRS wants to be 100% funded and arrive there by withholding our benefits. 


I had a strategic plan, it was to work 35 years to optimize my promised pension benefits and I planned on putting 100% effort into my job to gain the respect and trust of my peers. I retired without regrets. I'm rich in relationships with my peers, which is something that no one can take away. What was taken away from me, were my pension benefits because I trusted that others were doing their job.


Dr. Fichtenbaum was right yesterday when he made the statement, while it's nice that we are trying to build trust with one another, but what we really need to do is to work on is building trust with our members.  Regarding the Board trying to develop a strategic plan with the consultant working with STRS management and the Board, what was left out is the obvious; does anyone think input was members might be important?  A strategic plan without member input is an exercise in futility.  


Let's talk about working towards a plan that will allow members to plan for their future. Lobbying for an Employer Contribution increase from 14% to 18% is a start. ORTA and others, have advocated for this at least 5 years ago. By the way, our current 14% Employer Contribution rate is less than half the rate of other non Social-Security states. 


Which brings me to this question, if our 30 year returns are truly 8.6%, why don't we increase the discount rate from 7% to 7.25%, or higher.  Is it because our auditors think that perhaps our  Real Estate and PE investments are inflated, or our stated fees aren't accurate?  Something seems amiss.  


Lastly, passing legislation for an Employer Contribution will not be easy. People will resist funneling  money to a pension system that has problems with transparency and stated fair values.  As a Board you need to step up to the plate and make the needed managerial changes to gain the public's confidence. 


Dean Dennis, President

Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association


 

If you are unsure why active and retired teachers are upset with the STRS Board and management and have increasingly embraced the reform movement in the last several STRS elections, all you need to do is look at the decisions of this board


My name is Stephen Seagrave. I am a retired educator from the Liberty Center Schools in Henry County with 43 years in education.


We have a lot of retired educators who have fallen far behind financially and are really struggling due to inflation in recent years as well as the many years without the promised COLA. Active teachers also are facing difficult decisions due to the changes in retirement that have upended their long term planning.


If you are unsure why active and retired teachers are upset with the STRS Board and management and have increasingly embraced the reform movement in the last several STRS elections, all you need to do is look at the decisions of this board.


When we see that the low-cost S&P 500 Index Fund went up 15.9% for the 12 months ending last June, and the STRS Investment staff got huge bonuses for achieving a gross 7.68% return, it does not make sense to us. Any teacher can tell you 7.68 divided by 15.9 equals 48.3%. In the real world of the classroom this would be graded as an F.


So, teachers are working longer and doing without the promised COLA while huge bonuses are paid to people who are underperforming what could be done if our member’s money was invested in a diversified selection of broad based, low cost, total market index funds.


Nevada’s STRS has two employees managing $55 billion seeking to match total market returns using mostly index funds. It is time for this board to follow their example.


Stephen Seagrave, President Elect

Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association



Robin Rayfield and Dean Dennis outside the STRS Ohio building in Columbus. (December 14, 2023)


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