Friday, August 17, 2018

Dean Dennis Addresses the STRS Ohio Retirement Board - August 16, 2018

My name is Dean Dennis, I am the STRS Chair for the CFT-R, I am also the spokesperson for the Ohio STRS Member Only Forum on Facebook. When I addressed you in June we had 3,000 members, we now have over 6,000 members.  Additionally, I am the administrator of the Respect Ohio's Retired Teachers, Restore Their COLA. When I last addressed you the petition had  5,500 signatures, the petition now has over 12,000 signatures.
Retirees and their families are upset that the COLA that was promised to them is now being withheld. People make painstaking decisions on whether to retire, when to retire, and contemplate what life will be like in retirement. It's not easy adjusting to life on a fixed income after working decades. A slight bit of comfort was knowing that your pension would increase very slightly every year, because of the meager simple COLA. Now, that is taken away. 
Board Members need to understand that retirees are questioning why Board Members continue to grant STRS staff raises, and approve annual $100,000 plus incentive bonuses to select STRS staff; yet can't grant a modest simple COLA to those who elected them.  To put this in perspective, of the many who earn performance incentives,  four STRS staff received $1.2 million in incentive bonuses; this is enough money to pay 1,200 annual COLA's of teachers who retired with a $50,000 pension and were promised a 2% COLA.   
How upset are retirees? Let me share a recent poll.  
ORTA asked retirees this simple question, "Do you think elected official do enough to protect our pension systems, like STRS?" The results, 97% checked "NO."
Let me share a handful of the reasons people stated when they signed the Respect Ohio's Retired Teachers, Restore Their COLA petition within the last few weeks.  
"I'm signing because:"
  • This doesn't just impact currently retired teachers. If this continues then my family will be directly impacted
  • I recently retired and was told no COLA for 5 years. That's a long time with no adjustment."
  • If we as teachers promised our students something and we didn't come through, we would have lost all respect.....hmmmmm...
  • I was told 3% per year when retired . With inflation it’s impossible to keep up with expenses.  Look at the cost of cable TV electric your gasoline your gas for your home and all the other expenses .
  • My husband and I are retired teachers and finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a budget when prices keep going up and we keep falling behind. Cost of living increases are necessary for us to survive not to mention that we have earned it.
  • For the love of God, do the right thing and pay retired teachers the COLA they deserve -- they worked hard and paid into STRS for most of their working lives.
  • Social Security recipients receive at least some sort of increase annually, so sad that we don't. I always thought I was lucky because I had STRS to depend on....well you all know the rest of the story.
  • Politicians shouldn’t be allowed to change the terms of a retirement system after people have been contributing to it for decades, and have relied on cost of living adjustments to make ends meet after retirement. We also should stop lining the pockets of administrators.
  • My wife and I are both retired teachers. Our retirement decisions were based entirely on the promises made by STRS. We have already lost thousands of dollars. It is time for the State Legislature to intervene.
  • I was born and spent my early years in Ohio. My Grandmother worked her whole life in Ohio, some of it as a teacher. How dare they cut vital funds to those who cared for and taught the children of Ohio. Shameful.
  • We must take care of our teacher's as they dedicate so much of themselves in caring for our children.
  • We must honor our commitments to retired teachers because treating people with fairness and respecting their innate dignity is right and just.
  • Because as a young teacher, I know how hard this job is. Let’s take care of the teachers who took care of our communities’ babies for so long.
  • There is no justification for teachers pensions not keeping pace with inflation. They are already hugely taken advantage of in this country.
  • From the United States Department of Labor under "What are the responsibilities of plan fiduciaries?" "Acting solely in the interest of plan participants and their beneficiaries, with the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to them;" and "Paying only reasonable expenses of administering the plan and investing its assets. "Paying 6-figure salaries AND bonuses does not seem to be a requirement!
  • My mother in law is 92 years old and living on her late husband's teacher pension. That pension would now qualify for public assistance. Restore the COLA now.
  • Ohio is my home State. I have many family members who are teachers. This should NOT be happening to them!
  • This is very wrong! You need to uphold your promises to retired teachers!
  • You have no right to change what is part of the retirement plan! Aside from a professional lifetime of unfair low pay, it is important that retired teachers be able to take care of themselves adequately. Please stop tampering with our retirement benefits. 

Thank you.

Dean Dennis
August 16, 2018

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Dr. Dennis Leone Addresses the STRS Ohio Retirement Board - August 16, 2018

Members of the Board, my name is Dennis Leone. I served on this board in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. I recall some of my fellow board members not taking their oversight responsibility seriously. I remember board members pretty much blindly accepting the recommendations and conclusions of staff and outside “expert” consultants on very important matters pertaining to payroll growth assumptions and investments. Are board members still doing this today, when perhaps they should not? It is so easy to accept, isn’t it, what you are being told by staff and so-called “experts.” It is lot harder to call into question what you are being told, and to say, “no, I do not accept this and it is my conviction that we need to do better.”

I recall vividly in 2008, when the total STRS assets hit $81 billion, and when the DOW stood at 14,400. Yes, the stock market went south and we went down to $65 billion, but isn’t is curious to the board that today – 10 years later – the DOW stands at 25,000, but we STILL are not quite where we were in 2008 when the DOW reached a high of 14,400. 

Here is something I do recall from 2008, and you need to listen to this: We lost a ton of money with our Enron stock. I recall asking during board meetings in this room why we had not bailed from Enron, when so many others had. The answer the board was given by the staff was “no, our consultants tell us that is not the right things to do………we need to hang in there.” So we didn’t bail, as we should have, and we lost millions and millions more. I recall pushing for a new policy in 2008, which I could not get, that would have required STRS to pull back from stocks that were losing a certain percentage of their value. No, the staff and “expert” consultants did not want to do that either, so we didn’t. 

The data and recommendations the board accepted in the past for annual payroll growth assumptions have been embarrassing. In the 8-year span between 2005 and 2013, we received a miserable annual average of 1.33%.....not even close to the 3.5% assumption the board was told by staff and “experts” to use. Did the staff survey Ohio superintendents or treasurers and ask them to share what they thought might be the base raises and step increases during those years. Never, not once. In my 23 years as a superintendent in Ohio, I never once received such a survey from STRS. The board, instead, accepted conclusions from staff and outside “experts,” who – quite frankly – did not know what the hell they were talking about in this area.

Are there investment recommendations you have accepted that you should not have? Is it wrong for you to conclude that we should being doing better, and producing more investment revenue to support retirees and undo the board’s absolute broken promise to 143,000 retirees for an annual COLA. The has been the only way many retirees have been able to keep up with increased costs for home insurance, car insurance, and health insurance. It is sinful that you have given bonus checks to staff when you have given no increase, nothing, to retirees. But I guess if you continue to accept what you are told that the bonuses are necessary in order to keep the best and the brightest employees, then indeed you have fallen for the same malarkey that many board members did during my 4-year term.

Please study carefully the attached Bloomberg report, which offers 5 meaningful suggestions for pension boards to juice up their investment returns. 

But my suggestions are more simple. As board members, YOU need to take a leadership role and provide better oversight, which means not just questioning, but challenging and requiring meaningful improvements to help retirees receive the COLA they were promised and so very much deserve.

Thank you.

Dennis Leone
August 16, 2018

Monday, August 6, 2018

Attend the STRS Ohio Board Meeting on August 16, 2018

The August 16th STRS Board meeting is quickly approaching. We hope that many of you have already made plans to attend this meeting to show your support for restoring our COLA by the STRS Board. During the time between now and this meeting, we strongly encourage every Forum member to contact fellow retirees and active educators to also attend this meeting.
We must use this opportunity, as well as every available opportunity, to let the STRS Board members know that those they represent are not happy. The continued cuts being made to current retirees and future retirees, while at the same time awarding large bonuses to staff, is unacceptable. It is important that they see and feel the concern by those they represent. 
At this meeting, Dr. Dennis Leone will be addressing the STRS Board at 11:00 am along with other individuals. Those addressing the Board need your support.  Your remaining at the meeting to hear Mike Nehf's remarks is also very important. We want him to have an audience to hear what so far has been a litany of unacceptable excuses and nothing more than a smokescreen to justify the actions of the STRS Board.
These are the times that count. These are the events that matter in shaping our future. If we have less than a good representation of members, they will consider us weak and continue their past and current practices. If we have a good showing, they will feel the pressure and know that we are not going away anytime soon.
We encourage all those that have already made plans to attend the meeting to be there before 11:00 am. Please wear black to show unity and sit together as close to the front of the room as possible. The Board and staff can then see the real "Stockholders" of STRS...who have been ignored by the STRS Board and staff for way too long..
Please be reminded to email each STRS Board member with your concerns. Click here for a list of STRS Ohio Board members and their email addresses. Let them know according to the ORTA (Ohio Retired Teachers Association) poll that 97% of those responding did not think that elected officials do enough to protect our pension system.
Lastly, but certainly not least, everyone needs to sign the Restore COLA Petition before the August 16, 2018 STRS meeting. To those that have recruited members to our forum, please contact them and remind them of the meeting and the need to sign the petition if they have not done so already.
In closing, there is no single event or action that is unimportant in our ongoing efforts to Restore COLA and Restore STRS. If you can take time from your busy summer schedule to attend this meeting, please do so! We need to support those forum members that are working tirelessly behind the scene to move our cause forward in getting a broken promise made good by restoring COLA.
The time us to act is now! If not now...when?

Joe Lupo, Administrator

Friday, August 3, 2018

Summer is Slow but Things are Happening

Dean Dennis
August 3, 2018

Contact has been made with Ohio Retirees Teachers Association (ORTA), Ohio STRS Board Members, and union leaders.
Additionally, the Ohio STRS Member Forum Only, has drafted a letter that will go out to all of Ohio's General Assembly members. The General Assembly will be surveyed and asked directly if they feel retired teachers deserve a COLA. The Ohio STRS Member Forum Only has invited ORTA to team together in sending out the survey. There will be a meeting between the two organization on August 16, after Ohio STRS Board Meeting. Combined the two groups represent well over 30,000 retirees
Lastly, there will be help from the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT).  CFT President, Julie Sellers, shared when school starts, she will encourage Cincinnati's teachers to get involved. In light of the Janus Supreme Court decision, we're expecting when schools starts, most teacher unions will post this petition to their website.  In the meantime, let's keep getting more signatures. Please get on FB and ask your friends to post the petition There are over 10,000 of us who have signed this petition; let's see if each one of us can find 5 additional signatures and sent a message to the STRS Board.  And again if you are an Ohio STRS member, please the below group.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Do you think Ohio's elected officials do enough to protect our pension systems, like STRS?

The Ohio Retired Teachers Association has posted a poll on their Facebook page.

Do you think elected officials do enough to protect our pension systems, like STRS?

Click on the link below to go to the ORTA Facebook page to answer the poll question.