STRS Ohio Watchdogs

Chew on this!

"In Ohio, strong participant organizations, such as the Ohio Retired Teachers Association and social media, including Facebook groups like STRS Ohio Watchdogs, have played important roles in funding the forensic investigation, publicizing its findings and continuing to lobby for change. Strong participant organizations and social networks are critical to success.

I believe we are on the cusp of a participant-initiated public pension revolution. Count on Ohio to be the first win for participants." - Edward Siedle

July 25, 2021
Ohio Pensioners May Hold The Keys To Finally Fixing America’s Struggling Public Pensions

By Edward Siedle
Forbes Contributor

Through a grassroots donation campaign that began late last year, the Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA) engaged my firm to conduct an independent expert forensic review of the $90 billion-plus State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio. According to ORTA, the decision to engage in this project was driven by a lack of trust between retirees and those managing their pension system. My investigative findings, The High Cost of Secrecy were released June 2021 and were widely reported in NBC News, Bloomberg and local media. The purpose of the high-impact limited forensic review was to readily identify, at a reduced cost, deficiencies which would significantly improve investment management and performance results.

In Ohio, strong participant organizations, such as the Ohio Retired Teachers Association and social media, including Facebook groups like STRS Ohio Watchdogs, have played important roles in funding the forensic investigation, publicizing its findings and continuing to lobby for change. Strong participant organizations and social networks are critical to success.

I believe we are on the cusp of a participant-initiated public pension revolution. Count on Ohio to be the first win for participants.

Click here to read this article online.

July 22, 2021
Could Ohio's retired teachers see higher pension payouts? STRS management is focus of board infighting

By Laura A. Bischoff
The Columbus Dispatch

There is trouble in the board room at the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, a pension fund that oversees $94.5 billion invested for 500,000 Ohioans.

A faction led by board member Wade Steen is arguing that STRS investment staff miscalculated their performance bonus pay and that information is being withheld from board members.

The back-and-forth between factions is playing out in a series of terse letters and blog postings.

"As with your allegations of fraud, we remind you that allegations of staff misconduct are a serious matter and should not be made lightly," three board members wrote to Steen in June.

Steen also says that he knows of a way that STRS can reduce its investment fees, dramatically drop the required contribution rates, allow teachers to retire at younger ages and bring back the cost of living allowance.

Click here to read this article online.

July 21, 2021
Damschroder: Transformational or delusional, let the debate begin

A newly proposed investment strategy could help current and retired teachers

By John Damschroder
Fremont News-Messenger

Fremont native Wade Steen has detailed major problems and a possibly brilliant solution in a letter to fellow State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio Board members. Steen released a detailed explanation on how the STRS investment staff is alleged to have improperly secured $7.8 million in performance bonuses using false data. Steen further claims the STRS staff has blocked his ability to obtain information necessary as a pension fiduciary and he’s calling for the appointment of a personal lawyer by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to assist him in legal battles with STRS.

But easily the most consequential aspect of the Steen letter is his call for a special STRS Board meeting where he and newly elected board member Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum will unveil an investment strategy to restore the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for retirees, cut the payroll deduction for active teachers from 14% to 4%, and lower the retirement age.

Click here to read this article online.

"They took promised COLA benefits from workers and paid it to Wall Street in higher fees."

PODCAST: The Secret Wealth Transfer

Watchdog Ted Siedle is exposing one of the biggest Wall Street heists in American history.

Edward Siedle talks about his forensic investigation of STRS Ohio.

July 17, 2021
Second Ohio group jumps in with effort to review its state retirement system

By Jim Provance
The Blade, Toledo, Ohio


Even as an outside-funded, deep dive into Ohio teachers' retirement system continues, an effort is under way to do the same with the pension fund for most other government employees.

"There are certain uniquely positive features — including strong participant organizations and board members willing to break from the pack and speak out —with these funds that lead me to believe that these investigations could have very positive outcomes, outcomes that have not happened anywhere else in the United States," said Ted Siedle.

The former Securities Exchange Commission attorney, financial forensics investigator, and co-author of the book "Who Stole My Pension?" has already been hired by a group of about 1,000 retired teachers who've challenged decisions made by the State Teachers Retirement System.

Now a Kickstarter campaign is being launched to raise funds for a similar forensics audit of the Public Employees Retirement System.

Click here to read this article online.

In-person STRS Board meetings will resume on August 19th

We'll be there!

Many thanks to all of the active and retired teachers who have attended STRS Ohio Retirement Board meetings.

During the pandemic, Board meetings were held online. Members attended the meetings via the GoToWebinar app. Members of the public were not permitted to address the Board during virtual meetings.

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July 14, 2021
STRS Board Member Wade Steen to Board Chair Walters:
Hold special meeting to restore COLA and dramatically cut employee's contribution...

Watchdogs-Steen July 14, 2021 Letter.pdf

July 8, 2021
OEA and Forensic Audit of STRS Ohio

Many of our supporters belong to the Ohio STRS Member Only Forum, a private Facebook group for members of STRS Ohio.

A letter was posted in the Forum recently, from OEA President Scott DiMauro to Local Presidents, Board of Directors, District Leaders, UniServ Leadership Council Chairs, OEA-R Advisory Council, and all OEA Staff.

In his letter, Mr. Di Mauro addresses the forensic audit of STRS Ohio conducted by Edward Siedle. For those of you who may not be aware, the Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA) organized a fundraising campaign to raise $75,000 to hire Siedle to perform a forensic audit of STRS. Siedle released his preliminary report on June 7, 2021. You can find “The High Cost of Secrecy: Preliminary Findings of Forensic Investigation of State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio” on the ORTA website.

Watchdogs members will be pleased to read that OEA urges the STRS Ohio Board to “take the report seriously and fully investigate the claims” and “communicate openly with its members about the report.”

In response to Mr. DiMauro’s reference to “inflammatory and one-sided social media posts you may be seeing”, we want to assure our members that the mission of the STRS Ohio Watchdogs is to post reliable and fact-based information for Ohio’s legislators and taxpayers about STRS Ohio and our retirement benefits.

July 1, 2021
How Do We Bring Change to STRS?


By Rudy Fichtenbaum
STRS Ohio Board Member-Elect


The following is (in italics) a short excerpt from an email I received from an individual who I believe truly cares about our pension but feels that the tactics I am using, mainly being openly critical of senior staff and some Board members, is a mistake. What follows is a lightly edited response (mainly correcting a few typos which seem to be the bane of my existence).


“[name deleted]’s comments echo my concern with how your investment ideas are being promoted. Wade Steen posting an open letter on Facebook, that in essence called everyone at STRS a bunch of liars, is not helpful. While pleasing to the critics of STRS, your last sentence in an otherwise excellent report, has, in my opinion, a similar effect.”


“I know you are serious about exploring these investments ideas. To accomplish that, a change of focus may be necessary, concentrating on opening the minds of those who really matter - your fellow Board members - rather than forcing them into a defensive position that resists change.”


“I would like to see a full airing of these ideas, with fact-based pushback from the other side. I believe that sharp facts are more effective in changing minds than blunt-force name-calling. Donald Trump might disagree with that observation, but I’m sticking with it, even if only to maintain a little optimism about the country and STRS. Allow your “ends” to guide your approach, not simply justify your ‘means.’”


As an academic, I would much rather be arguing over facts. And frankly, I believe that I have put out more facts than most of the other people engaged in this “conversation”, including the STRS senior management staff. The staff have a tremendous information advantage and they have been unwilling to share that information. They also present misinformation and misrepresent certain facts. If one side plays dirty, withholding information and misrepresenting facts and uses appeals to authority as the main vehicle for making their arguments, then we end up where we are today.


Honestly tell me if you were Wade Steen and were treated the way he was treated at the last Board meeting, not to mention having basic information that he requested as a fiduciary withheld, how would you react? If we want a debate in accordance with the Marquess of Queensberry rules, then the senior staff and the Board for that matter, are going to have to take the initiative because they hold the power. I would be happy if we had the same access to information and if the Board would be willing to hear from members. But from what I can see, they don’t really want to hear from members, and they are certainly not sharing information, at least not the kind of information that is needed to make an honest assessment of the performance of the pension fund.


Again, the fact that members had to pony up $75K when we already made our pension contributions, because members felt that STRS was hiding information and not be straight with members, is truly an insult.


When you are the underdog, you must use all the tools at your disposal. By that I don’t mean lying or misrepresenting facts. But at this point we are involved in a political battle and that inevitably leads to questioning people’s motives, which I know is uncomfortable terrain. So, unless STRS senior staff want to change how they treat members and Board members who raise questions, those of us who want to get to the bottom of what has happened and how we can fix it are going to have to use all the tools at our disposal. And again, just so what I say is not misrepresented, I am not talking about lying, misrepresenting facts, or withholding evidence. If I make a mistake in the presentation of facts and it is pointed out to me, I am not afraid to own up to my mistakes and offer a correction. But beyond that my suggestion is STRS senior staff and Board members, who are standing in the way of trying to fix the pension, just need to put on their big boy pants. What is at stake here are the lives of members who depend on their STRS pension to pay their rent or mortgages, to buy food, to pay for medical bills, to visit their grandchildren and live a dignified life in retirement.


Think about it this way. We are constantly told that we need to pay bonuses to attract talent otherwise people will leave. Well, that means the people who work investing our pension money have alternatives if they are not happy working at STRS. But members getting pensions have no other choices. They don’t have any other pensions, they are subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision if they get Social Security at all, and many cannot just go out and get a job. This is serious stuff and literally there are lives at stake.

June 29, 2021
Forensic Investigation Of Ohio Teachers’ Pension Reveals Widespread Failures And Mismanagement
By Edward Siedle, Contributor, Forbes

Earlier this month, the forensic investigation of the $90 billion-plus State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio commissioned by the Ohio Retired Teachers Association and performed by my firm, was completed. The damning preliminary findings have now been reported to Ohio legislators, regulators and law enforcement.

The report concluded the state pension has long abandoned transparency; legislative oversight of the pension has utterly failed; Wall Street has been permitted to pocket lavish fees without scrutiny; investment costs and performance may have been misrepresented; and failure to monitor conflicts may have undermined the integrity of the investment process, as billions that could have been used to pay retirement benefits promised to teachers have been squandered.

Read Siedle's article at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsiedle/2021/06/29/forensic-investigation-of-ohio-teachers-pension-reveals-widespread-failures-and-mismanagement

June 28, 2021
How We Can Restore the COLA and Reduce Member Contributions

Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum, STRS Ohio Board Member-Elect

STRS needs to reduce its expenses and increase its returns without increasing market risks. In the most recent Board meeting, Governor appointed investment expert Wade Steen, indicated such a solution exists but he also told us that the senior management staff are preventing the Board from even discussing the solution. The solution that Mr. Steen alluded to would result in STRS earning an additional $4 billion per year. For perspective, $4 billion is more than the current employee (14%), employer (14%), and healthcare contributions- combined. It is easily enough money to restore the COLA for retirees and cut contributions for active employees and begin rolling back some of the other cuts that came with pension reform.


What is the proposed solution? Let’s think for a moment about banks, the building block of our financial system. What is a bank? A bank is a business that accepts deposits and makes loans. Pretty simple right? Traditionally banks made money by making loans and charging borrowers more in interest than they paid to depositors. When you make a loan, you are a “taker” or an “investor” who takes risk and hopes to make money when interest is paid on the loan. Banks can reduce their risk by selling the loans they make. Each time they make a loan they charge a small fee and when the loan is sold the bank has the money to make new loans. So today banks make most of their money not from the interest they charge on loans but from the fees of making loans. If a borrower defaults the bank is protected because they don’t own the loan. In this case the bank is acting as a “maker.”


STRS current investment strategy is to be a taker. The investment staff take risk by trading and investing in nontransparent alternative investments (hedge funds, private equity, and venture capital) and thus, implicitly believe they are smarter than Wall Street. The graphs below show the odds of beating the market.


Think about it this way, beating the market means that you are above average. In a zero-sum game, half will earn a gross return above the market and half will earn a gross return below the market. But investing is not free and once trading costs and investment expenses are deducted there is automatically less than a 50/50 chance of earning a return that is above average. If we were in Lake Woebegone things might be different, but we live in Ohio.


What is the alternative? Combining passive investing and being a maker allowing STRS to earn fees by using its balance sheet will dramatically increase returns and reduce risk. This is precisely what the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan has done for more than twenty years.


Unlike a bank, a pension has a permanent capital base which means there are no depositors who can withdraw their money and pensions are not subject to the same types of restrictions as banks when it comes to managing their balance sheet. This allows a pension to partner with banks as a maker and collect fees by helping banks better manage their balance sheet.


STRS has assets. To become a maker, STRS will exchange its risky assets like stocks for safe assets like Treasuries. STRS will then use a portion of the Treasuries to buy the rights to the returns (or losses) of an index (for example the S&P 500), which amounts to passive investing. STRS can then take the remaining Treasuries and exchange them with a bank for stocks the bank wants to get off its balance sheet for a fee. STRS will in effect be creating a warehouse for these stocks and can lend them out for additional fees. STRS will still get the interest from the Treasuries, and the bank continues to get the capital gains (losses) and dividends from the stocks. Each time the stocks come back they will be lent out again for another fee. So, because STRS will get the S&P 500 returns (or losses) plus the fees it earns for warehousing and the fees for lending its inventory, it will always be able to beat the market. This strategy, of being a maker and getting the benefits of passive investing, also lowers risk because fees, associated with warehousing operations, are negatively correlated with stock market returns.


Are there risks with this strategy? The two major risks are counterparty risk i.e., the bank you are dealing with goes bankrupt and operational risk. Counterparty risk can be managed by only engaging with banks that are ‘too big to fail’. Operational risk is keeping track of all the transactions, so you know who has the stocks from your warehouse. This type of risk can be mitigated using advanced technologies.


So why are STRS senior staff standing in the way of this solution that could restore the COLA, reduce member contributions, and potentially restore other pension cuts? The answer appears to be that senior management seems to care more about the well-being of the investment staff than it does about STRS members.

June 22, 2021
Ohio Legislative Oversight Of Five State Pensions Has Epically Failed

By Edward Siedle
Forbes Contributor

"The Ohio Retirement Study Council was created by the Ohio Legislature to provide legislative oversight of Ohio’s $200 billion-plus statewide public pension systems. For decades, it has epically failed to perform its limited statutorily-mandated duties."

Read Siedle's article on the Forbes website at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsiedle/2021/06/22/ohio-legislative-oversight-of-five-state-pensions-has-epically-failed.

June 21, 2021
Rudy Fichtenbaum: I have never heard a Board meeting like the one I listened to Thursday!

For those of you who may not know, there is a coalition of stakeholder groups that aims to influence STRS decisions. It is called Healthcare and Pension Advocates of STRS or just "HPA." I've been representing the AAUP as part of HPA for more than a decade. Here is a message I sent to the group ahead of a special meeting that we're having today about the Ted Siedle report:

HPA members:

I have never heard a Board meeting like the one I listened to Thursday, and I have sat through many Board meetings for different organizations. I have never seen an organization where Board members cannot add items to a Board agenda. I can tell you that no University Board operates that way, union Boards do not operate that way at least not in the AAUP nor on the Executive Board of the Miami Valley AFL-CIO. It is part of the way that the staff try and control the agenda of the meeting because they are afraid. I will not speculate as to why they are afraid but I think that is a fact.

Voting on items as a group is certainly contrary to Robert’s rules unless a group of changes is common e.g., let’s change this word to another word throughout the document. But when voting on distinct items, any parliamentarian (and I have had the opportunity in AAUP to work with a professional parliamentarian) will tell you that you should have separate votes on items to allow members to vote one way on a particular item while voting another way on another item. Incidentally, in another life, I also served as President of the Faculty Senate at WSU twice, chaired almost all the major University-wide faculty committees and I was President of the National AAUP for more than 8 years, so I know a thing or two about running the meetings of deliberative bodies. When the question was raised about whether STRS follows Robert’s Rules of Order, we were informed that they use them as a guide. I am not sure what that means. Does it mean you used them when it is advantageous to those who are running the meeting to control the meeting but not use them when it might threaten their control? You either use Robert’s Rules or you don’t. Yes, I know the STRS Board is not required to follow Robert’s Rules, so no policy, regulation or law was broken. But there is a reason why organization use Robert’s Rules and that is because they ensure fairness, orderly meetings and promote democratic decision making. That part of the meeting was a total embarrassment. It is what I imagine meetings to be like in the Kremlin or in a Banana Republic. You can have any view you want as long as it is the view sanctioned by a dictator.

I am not sure why it is hard to find common ground on a set of facts. After all facts are just facts. Part of the problem is STRS staff has lots of facts that they are unwilling to share. I am not going to speculate as to why they will not share the information but it is a fact they will not share a great deal of information that would put us all on the same footing. Nevertheless I think there are facts we agree upon.

Our pension is the only public pension in the U.S. where the normal cost is less than member contributions. So active members are getting screwed. It is a fact that a significant number of retirees are very, very upset about the elimination of the COLA. They feel that they were promised a COLA when they made the decision to retire and now that they have made an irreversible decision, the rug was pulled out from under them. So far, I don’t think anyone will argue with the facts as I have stated them in this paragraph.

The pension has significant cash outflows and fixed contributions that can only be changed through legislative action. This along with some previously stated facts means that the pension is very vulnerable to a significant downturn in the market. Such a downturn could trigger an irreversible spiral down from which STRS could not recover ultimately leaving the pension insolvent. Checking in again on the facts, I don’t think any staff, current Board members or members would disagree, although many members do not understand the risk for the pension. Again, so far, I don’t think I have said anything controversial.

Given the investment strategy of STRS if the Board reduces risk, they will reduce returns and right now although 2021 has been a great year they cannot afford to reduce returns. There is also a lot of unmeasured and unmeasurable risk in the STRS portfolio. There is a lot of liquidity risk because of the significant part of the portfolio in alternatives and real estate. This last statement probably starts to border on a fact that some might not agree with but it doesn’t seem very controversial to me.

I think it is a fact, that STRS needs to increase its returns and I have heard several current board members and former board members make this statement and I have not heard any Board member or staff member disagree with that statement. There are only two ways to increase returns, reduce investment expenses or other things equal increase returns (gross returns). At the end of day the pension needs more money. How am I doing so far?

It is also a fact that a proposal to increase returns, reduce expenses and reduce risk exists and the staff of STRS are aware of it. That is a fact. I have seen an email from an STRS staff member asking questions about how to implement this proposal from written to an employee of another pension has been implementing these strategies for years and I would be willing to produce a copy of that email if anyone doubts it. The email is exploring the possibility of STRS using liquidity monetization (LM) strategies to enhance STRS earnings. So, I will consider this a fact.

At yesterday’s Board meeting Wade Steen, the governor’s appointee said, “A solution exists to restore COLA and lower both employee and employer contributions.” That is additional evidence that at least some members of the Board know about LM. Steen goes on to say that “STRS senior staff have gone to great lengths to prevent the board from discussing this solution. The reason for this obstruction is likely because of the inherent conflicts of interest - the staff are unwilling to confess their performance failures and recommend a solution which jeopardizes their employment with STRS.” Now I think I have gotten into an area that will be controversial, because here Wade Steen is speculating about motives. But forgetting about motives, it is a fact, that there is a proposal that could be helpful, but it can’t get in front of the Board because that decision is controlled by the Chair and the senior management staff.

The fact that no Board members were willing to comment on Siedle’s report except for Wade Steen is deeply disturbing. Board members who spoke in response to Steen’s request sounded like school children giving excuses like my dog ate my homework, when trying to explain why they had not “had time to read the report carefully.”

When a sitting board member says that his information requests have been denied, how can the STRS staff say with a straight face that they are being transparent? The three items that Wade Steen mentions should have been given to him immediately (that’s my opinion, not a fact). If they are not being transparent, what are they trying to hide? (That’s just a question, not a fact or an opinion). When a sitting member of the Board of one of the largest pensions in the world says he has read the Siedle report and found it deeply disturbing and gives out the phone number of the FBI in a public meeting, I would say it is a fact that there is trouble in paradise.

If we are going to save the pension, we need help. At some point you either have to be part of the solution or you are part of the problem. I am hoping that HPA can be part of the solution.

Best,

Rudy

Watchdogs-Steen-June-17-2021-Open Letter.pdf

June 17, 2021
Governor Appointed Board Member Wade Steen: Open Letter to STRS Ohio Stakeholders


"I have completely lost confidence in the staff's ability to invest money, and even worse, their willingness to tell us the truth about the results." - Wade Steen


June 13, 2021
Forensic Expert Edward Siedle Responds to STRS Ohio Rebuttal of High Cost of Secrecy Investigative Report

By Edward Siedle

As the nation’s leading expert in pension forensics, I would have liked to conclude in my report released last week, The High Cost of Secrecy, that the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio is professionally-managed and the retirement security of those who depend upon the pension is assured.

Unfortunately, I could not then and cannot now. Nothing the pension has said to rebut my findings is remotely persuasive. In my opinion, STRS insiders and their Wall Street helpers either don’t know what they’re doing or, worse still, are fully aware their actions are not in the best interests of stakeholders but simply don’t care.

To recap:

There is only one reason to oppose transparency and embrace secrecy: Because you have something to hide.

STRS apparently believes it has plenty to hide. Over the past six months, the pension has failed to respond to the overwhelming majority of my requests for documents. Only the most mundane records have been released, in an effort to distract from the fact that all—100 percent—of the critical investment documents I requested detailing widespread industry abuses and potential violations of law have been withheld.

STRS disingenuously claims to have provided more than 800 documents and 22,000 pages in response to my records requests. In the words of economist and newly-elected STRS board member, Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum: Claiming that you are being transparent by counting pages is absurd.Transparency is not merely about the quantity of information it is also about the quality of information.

Since commencement of my investigation, one board member I interviewed has resigned and two others have openly expressed their own frustrations obtaining information from the secretive pension. STRS isn’t even transparent with its own board!

There is only one reason to delay statutorily-mandated fiduciary audits year-after-year: Because you have no intention of curing the longstanding deficiencies you know the audits will expose.

There is only one reason to refuse to fully disclose all investment costs: Because the all-in fees the pension pays Wall Street are unjustifiable and far too high.

How to defend paying Wall Street $143 million for doing nothing?

Keep it secret.

There is only one reason to use bogus “actual” performance so-called “benchmarks” for the riskiest investments and mystery custom peer group comparisons: Because the true investment performance results are dismal.

There is only one reason to misrepresent to stakeholders that GIPS compliance verification for a pension which invests heavily in alternatives (that are not themselves GIPS compliant) provides any meaningful benefit: Because GIPS compliance verification presents some perceived public relations advantage to a pension widely distrusted. That is, to STRS, the appearance of integrity is more important than diligent oversight of investments.

There should be no reason to ignore external investment consultant conflicts of interest that may have cost STRS over $1 billion annually or approximately $20 billion over a ten-year period—an amount nearly equal to the under-funding of the pension. Yet—despite specific warnings dating back to 2006—compliance with conflicts of interest safeguards has never been enforced at STRS. You have paid the price— your COLA slashed and then outright eliminated—for this willful neglect.

You deserve better.

Later this week I will release my recommendations for action to hold those responsible for the mismanagement and billions in losses accountable. If your retirement security is important to you, prepare to join with others to take action.


Edward Siedle is a former SEC attorney, investment banking and securities industry professional, and longtime Forbes writer. He is the nation’s leading expert in forensic investigations of money managers and pensions, focusing upon excessive and hidden investment fees and risks, conflicts of interest and wrongdoing. He was named as one of the 40 most influential people in the U.S. pension debate by Institutional Investor Magazine for 2014 and 2015.

Read this document online at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1osxh58h4tkNBPmrRtEd8GKjzaa6k6qs2/view?usp=sharing.

June 11, 2021
My Response to 'STRS Ohio Responds to Report on the Pension Fund'

By Rudy Fichtenbaum, STRS Ohio Board Member - Elect

I want to begin my comments by saying that it is apparent that many of us have a have a trust problem when it comes to STRS. Beyond that I want to make some general observations about STRS’s response to the Siedle report and also provide one more piece of specific evidence regarding STRS performance. This response is not a point-by-point examination of the response. I will leave that to others.

The general approach taken by the STRS staff in responding to Siedle’s report is not to provide real evidence but to use a basic fallacy that gets taught to every college student who takes a course in logic and that is the “appeal to authority.” The appeal to authority fallacy is making a statement that something is true or false because an expert says it is true or false. Something is true or false, not because an expert declares it to be true or false, but because there is evidence. The point of having an expert look at something is he or she is supposed to know exactly what evidence is needed and to have the expertise that is needed to look at the evidence, analyze the evidence and present the results. When experts present evidence it is generally peer reviewed and it is now common practice in scholarly journals to provide one’s data so that peers reviewing the evidence can check the work of experts when they make claims based on their analysis of data.

The STRS response is long on appeals to authority and short on evidence. Let me provide just a few examples to illustrate my point. "Independent review shows STRS Ohio’s 10-year return exceeds 88% of public fund peers, among the best over multiple time periods” How do we know this is true? Is it possible to independently verify the claim? The answer is no because the data used by experts is proprietary.

"ACA Group annually examines and verifies STRS Ohio investment performance reporting is in compliance with GIPS® standards.” They examine and verify. What exactly does that mean? All of you should listen to the exchange between Wade Steen, ACA and the STRS staff on this very point when he asked whether the returns that STRS were “audited”. If someone says I made $4 in the last two days because I sold $2 worth of goods today and $2 worth of goods yesterday that can be verified by hiring a Ph.D. in math and getting them to check that 2+2=4. But that is not really what is important. What we really want to know to evaluate the validity of the claim is whether the person making the claim actually sold $4 worth of goods over a two- day period.

Suppose I went to a doctor, and he/she ordered some tests, made a diagnosis and recommended a course of treatment. But I am concerned about the treatment and ask for a copy of the test results so I can get a second opinion. What if the doctor responds telling me, look I am an expert? I went to the best medical school in the country and last year my colleagues voted and gave me the doctor of the year award. You should just trust me. I won’t give you your test results because they are proprietary information. What’s happening here. This example uses a basic fallacy in logic, the “appeal to authority” in place of providing real evidence. I am the expert and so you should trust me, and I don’t have to give you real evidence.

Claiming that you are being transparent by counting pages is absurd. Transparency cannot be measured by counting pages. Again, anyone with just a high school education would know that if they made an information request and received 1 million pages with one word on each page, they would not be getting any useful information. Transparency is not merely about the quantity of information it is also about the quality of information. Transparency means that the signal to noise ratio is high enough that useful information can be obtained when information is transmitted.

Now I want to turn to one specific claim made in the STRS response and show why it is 1) not verifiable using publicly available information and 2) why it is misleading i.e., meant to deflect your attention away from the real issue. "Alternative investment performance of 12.17%, 11.68%, 10.99% and 8.46% over the past three-, five-, 10- and 20-year periods ending March 31, 2021, respectively, exceeded STRS Ohio’s total fund performance and have been additive to STRS Ohio’s total fund returns.”

First, how convenient to use a date of March 31, 2021, for which there is no data available to validate this claim. March of 2021 is FY2021, and that fiscal year is not over until June 30, 2021, and it will be months until we get the 2021 CAFR. But setting that aside for the moment, let me call your attention to page 13 in the 2020 and 2015 CAFRs which, shows 5-year returns by asset class.

The 5-year return for alternative investments for 2016-2020 is 6.66% and the total fund return is 6.97%. So, for this 5-year period it is not mathematically possible to make the statement that alternatives were additive to the total return. (This would be true even if we used the total return net, which was 6.77%). For the 5-year period from 2011-2015 the alternative investments return was 13.01% and the total return was 11.93%, so alternative returns were additive to the total fund return (total fund net is not reported in the 2015 CAFR). So at least one statement in the STRS response is not true that being the 5-year return is not additive to the total return. What about the 10-year return? Mathematically, that is possible but there is no way to verify that claim given the data in the CAFRs. In fact, there isn’t even a way to verify a 1-year total return given the data in the CAFR. The reason is that the CAFR gives returns for domestic equities, international equities, fixed income, real estate and alternative investments, but does not give returns for cash and short-term investments, which accounted for 2.6% of total investments in 2020. Moreover, if you take a weighted average of the returns using each asset class, where the weights are the percentages shown at the bottom of page 13 under investment distribution by fair value, the return is 2.70% not 3.14%. But we know the 2.7% is wrong because it assumes a 0% return for cash and short-term investments. What would the return on cash and short-term investments have to be to get a return of 3.14%? The answer is mathematically 16.93%. Clearly that is absurd. If STRS could earn that much on cash and short-term investments, we would not have an unfunded liability. So, there are lots of numbers, lots of information but there is no transparency because we cannot independently verify the claims being made in the CAFR.

Perhaps the more important point, however, is that the statement in the STRS response was a form of misdirection and is therefore misleading, because it is addressing the wrong question. The fundamental problem with the alternative investments is that from 2011-2015 they returned 13.01% and the alternative investment blended relative return objective (blended benchmark) was 18.19%. From 2016-2020 alternatives returned 6.66% and the alternative investment bended relative return objective (blended benchmark) was 9.97%. So, in both 5-year periods (2011-2015 and 2016-2020), alternatives underperformed their benchmarks by 3.31% and 5.18% respectively. So, while it is mathematically possible that they were additive over a 10-year period, the total return for the 10-years would have been significantly higher, if the alternative funds were invested passively. The claim that alternative investments are good for STRS would be like a coach in a post-game interview telling reporters that we had a terrible game in the first half and a terrible game in the second have but overall, we played a great game.

Higher returns would have increased the plans assets and reduced the unfunded liability and that is what matters when it comes to the ability of the pension to meet the promises that were made to members.

Rudy Fichtenbaum has been elected to the STRS Ohio Board. His term will begin September 1, 2021.

Read this document online at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1sf8mkxbpvGvNM6cZdk-VB3Jwgv30QlJw/view?usp=sharing.

June 10, 2021
STRS Ohio responds to report on the pension fund

Earlier this week, STRS Ohio received a report about the system’s investments, commissioned by Ohio Retired Teachers Association. Many of the conclusions in the report are offered with little support other than the author’s opinion. While the author is entitled to his opinions, STRS Ohio does not want the report to unnecessarily concern our retirees, stakeholders and other interested parties. As detailed below, STRS Ohio’s investments have achieved strong performance, with low costs and lower than average risk.

Read this document online at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xVV51uFiJW7OYKvY79SixbGYNfRlpApj/view?usp=sharing

Protestors outside the STRS office in Columbus, Ohio, on June 21, 2018.

June 9,2021
Private equity and hedge fund firms invested pension cash for retired Ohio teachers. Here's what happened.

By Gretchen Morgenson
NBC News


For more than 30 years, Dean Dennis and his wife, Patty, worked in the Cincinnati school system, paying into their pensions so they wouldn't have to worry about retirement. "We managed our money well. We had our plans for our future," Dennis said.


But the Dennis family's plans and those of thousands of other former educators and school system workers in Ohio have been upended. In 2017, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, or STRS, pension plan eliminated an annual cost-of-living increase. Since then, recipients have had no increase in payments while prices have risen by 8 percent.


Read this story online at https://www.nbcnews.com/business/personal-finance/private-equity-hedge-fund-firms-invested-pension-cash-retired-ohio-n1269885

June 9, 2021
John Damschroder: New pension study confirms our reporting

By John Damschroder
Fremont News-Messenger

Since 2016 I have been reporting facts in the state pension financial documents that contradict former Gov. John Kasich’s campaign-calculated claim that Ohio pensions are “rock solid.”

The State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) defended Kasich’s premise, asserting in the News Messenger that CEM Benchmarking data shows them as a low-cost, high-performance, value-adding pension system.

Now comes Edward Siedle, the former SEC lawyer turned whistleblowing crusader, to say STRS is misleading citizens through the selective use of limited CEM data. The Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA) commissioned a forensic audit — a limited, high impact, inspection of STRS — that produced a finding that fully disclosed CEM data shows the $279 million in fees STRS reports are actually at least $463.6 million.

Read this story online at https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/savingandinvesting/john-damschroder-new-pension-study-confirms-our-reporting/ar-AAKPsZp?ocid=sf

June 7, 2021
The High Cost of Secrecy

Key Findings: STRS has long abandoned transparency; legislative oversight of the pension has utterly failed; Wall Street has been permitted to pocket lavish fees without scrutiny; investment costs and performance may have been misrepresented; and failure to monitor conflicts may have undermined the integrity of the investment process, as billions that could have been used to pay retirement benefits promised to teachers have been squandered.


Preliminary Findings of Forensic Investigation of State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio

Commissioned by Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA)

Benchmark Financial Services, Inc., June 2021


Here are some excerpts from the report regarding the COLA and increases in active teachers' contributions and years of service required for retirement.


In our opinion, a more accurate assessment would be that the alternatives have massively underperformed the Relative Return objectives across all periods. For example, over the last 10 years alternatives returned 9.79 percent vs. 14 percent for the Relative Return Objective; for the last 5 years alternatives returned 6.66 percent versus 9.97 percent. Use of the recommended Russell 3000 plus 500 basis points as the benchmark would reveal that since the 2006 fiduciary audit (not including the massive underperformance in the 5 years prior to the audit), the Alternatives have dramatically underperformed, 8.26 percent versus 11.91 percent.The alternatives underperformance losses for the period amount to $8.6 billion or $2.5 million per trading day for 14 years. Restoring the COLA benefit would cost less than $1 million ($890,000) per day. For additional perspective, total active teacher contributions since the 2006 Fiduciary Audit amount to approximately $18 billion. $8.6 billion alternative investment underperformance equates to $61,000 per retired teacher.


To put the hidden, unreported fees—alone—into context, they amount to $2.75 million per school day, and more than twice the $210 million required to fund STRS COLAs annually.


Assuming STRS pays fees of 2 percent on total unfunded commitments, this amounts to an annual waste of approximately $143 million - enough to restore the COLA to 2 percent.


Most objectionable was the loss of a promised Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in 2013 with no resumption in sight. (11) In 2013, STRS did not pay the annual COLA; in 2014, 2015 and 2016 the COLA was reduced from the promised 3 percent to 2 percent. In 2017, the COLA benefits were reduced to zero supposedly “to preserve the fiscal integrity of the retirement system.” With approximately $7 billion paid out in annual pension benefits, elimination of the 3 percent COLA saved the pension approximately $210 million annually. When pressed for answers by ORTA, STRS leadership has simply stated the pension will only consider providing any COLA after it has reached a funding level of 85 percent. The problem is, ORTA notes, in over 100 years of existence STRS has rarely been at funding level of 85 percent or above and has not been at such level in the past decade. (11) STRS retirees were promised an annual cost of living increase (COLA) at the time of their retirement. This promise was also codified in Ohio law (ORC 3307.67).


At the same time that retirees were experiencing a loss of promised benefits, active teachers saw an increase of 40 percent in their contributions to STRS. Active teachers also witnessed an increase in the number of years required to receive full retirement benefits. These changes resulted in many teachers paying more, working longer, and not receiving the level of benefits previously promised. Finally, while benefits to retirees were slashed, active teachers were required to pay more and receive less, the STRS board voted to increase salaries and pay nearly $10 million in performance incentives for the STRS investment staff. The performance incentives have been paid annually, despite no clear benchmarks for earning these so-called “bonuses.”

June 3, 2021

Private Equity Slammed by Pensioners in Ohio Fund Report

By Neil Weinberg
Bloomberg LP


A report commissioned by the 18,400-member Ohio Retired Teachers Association says “billions have been squandered” by the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio on fees and under-performance in the pension fund’s $14.3 billion alternative-investment portfolio, according to a draft seen by Bloomberg.


Read this article online at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-03/private-equity-slammed-by-retirees-in-ohio-pension-fund-report.

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STRS: It's Our Money, Not Yours!

STRS is costing us billions by having an IRA (investment return assumption) that is significantly lower than what is actually earned. This has cost retirees their COLA and has forced active teachers to increase their employee contribution to 14% of their salary. In return, they work more years and receive less benefits. It's time to stop the madness and time to become proactive!

STRS: Restore Our Promised COLA!

It is only through a COLA that retired teachers can keep up with inflation. Many of Ohio's teachers work in rural areas and retire with very modest pensions. They rely heavily on their promised and earned COLA. The State Teacher Retirement System (STRS) and elected officials have broken their promises to Ohio's retirees and have placed an unfair burden on Ohio's current teachers.

Kathie Bracy's Blog

Kathie Bracy’s blog is a forum for Ohio educators, sharing thoughts regarding their health care and pension system, STRS Ohio. Kathie’s blog is a virtual repository of STRS Ohio history since 2003.

Many of the documents and articles featured in Kathie’s blog are contributed by John Curry. John manages a clearinghouse of emails, documents, and articles about STRS Ohio.

Visit Kathie Bracy’s Blog at http://kathiebracy.blogspot.com

Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA)

ORTA’S mission is to monitor, advocate for, and protect the pensions and benefits of its members. The Association shall encourage individuals to improve the social and economic changes and issues relevant to their retirement.

Click here to visit ORTA's website.

Meet the Leaders of Our Pack

John Bos is a retired teacher and administrator from Shawnee Public Schools. John is an advocate for quality affordable health care for retirees.

Kathie Bracy is a retired elementary teacher from Columbus Public Schools and the author of Kathie Bracy's Blog, a virtual repository of STRS history since 2003.

Bob Buerkle has been lobbying the Ohio Legislature on behalf of Ohio's teachers since 1982. Bob is a retired teacher from Cincinnati Public Schools.

Buddy the Bulldog is our mascot.

John Curry was a founding member of Concerned Ohio Retired Educators (CORE). John is a retired teacher from Wapakoneta City Schools.

Dean Dennis founded the STRS Ohio Watchdogs in January 2020. Dean serves on the Legislative Committee of ORTA. He is a retired teacher from the Cincinnati Public Schools.

Cindy Murphy is our webmaster and social media coordinator. Cindy is a retired educational media specialist from Cuyahoga Falls City Schools.

Robin Rayfied is the Executive Director of ORTA, the Ohio Retired Teachers Association. Robin is a retired teacher from Pike-Delta-York Local School District.

Julie Sellers is the President of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. Julie is a teacher for the Cincinnati Public Schools.