STRS Ohio Watchdogs


Chew on this!

Editorial: Unmuzzle pension boards

The State Teachers Retirement System Board of Trustees had a telling debate over their governing policies at the Nov. 17th meeting. STRS has what they call a “one- voice policy,” that would be more fittingly labeled a membership muzzle plan.

Click here to read the editorial in the Toledo Blade.

Class Action Lawsuit

December 6, 2022

Ohio Teachers Pension Has No Comment Or Records Regarding Its Cryptocurrency Investments

By Edward Siedle

The $100 billion Ohio Teachers pension fund recently responded to a public record request from a former board member indicating it had no records in its possession regarding its cryptocurrency investments. Later, in response to a media inquiry regarding crypto investments identified in its portfolio, officials at the state pension responded, “No comment.” So much for transparency and public accountability.

Click here to read the full article online.

November 23, 2022

Effort to claw back $10M in staff bonuses for Ohio teacher retirement system withdrawn

Bonuses were awarded just before news that the teachers’ fund lost $5.3B.


By Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal


https://ohiocapitaljournal.com/2022/11/23/effort-to-claw-back-10m-in-staff-bonuses-for-ohio-teacher-retirement-system-withdrawn/


A board member of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio last week made a short-lived attempt to claw back $10 million in bonuses awarded in August to the system’s highly paid staff. He said he’s going to keep up the fight for reform.


Steven Foreman, one of 11 members of the Retirement Board, last Thursday made a motion to claw back the bonuses after the system’s investment losses for the preceding fiscal year turned out to be 71% greater than predicted. It was a $5.3 billion loss to a system with about $90 billion under management.


“I highly question if any of the $10 million in bonuses would have been paid had the board waited for the valuations to be reported,” Foreman wrote in a letter to board Chair Carol Correthers. “The staff took money and portrayed it as justified.

November 16, 2022

I will be calling a vote to claw back the money paid as bonuses when we meet tomorrow, Thursday, November 17, 2022. There is no agenda item more important in my mind at this moment.

"I highly question if any of the $10 million in bonuses would have been paid had the board waited for the valuations to be reported. The staff took money and portrayed it as justified. If any part of this is appropriate, then the system is broken and/or rigged to benefit the staff at the expense of the membership. In lieu of an attempt to justify this, what actually needs discussed is that historically, boards failed to hold staff accountable. They enabled a system where the staff feel justified in taking $10 million from teachers. I call for an end to this now because the longer it continues, the longer our members are excessively burdened." - Steven Foreman, STRS Ohio Trustee

Foreman to Correthers Nov 16, 2022.pdf

November 3, 2022
Through the STRS Looking Glass

By Rudy Fichtenbaum


Last month, the day before the Board meeting, I sent an email to Board members in preparation for the Investment Committee meeting. On the agenda for that meeting was a discussion of STRS’s investment philosophy. Staff prepared materials with Callan’s assistance in which they asserted that our philosophy supports active investment. STRS’s “belief in active investment” is based on the claim that active investment outperforms passive investment. The investment staff and our consultants constantly talk about the value added by active investing.


The only verifiable benchmark that STRS uses is for U.S. equities. Beyond that all the other benchmarks are custom, and none of them get audited. The international equities are 50% hedged; without daily data on hedging, you cannot verify performance. Fixed income uses daily weights that only STRS has and cannot be verified. Real estate uses an index that does not include leverage. For alternatives, STRS has been using its own performance until this year. Look at the reports for Cliffwater, and you will see that they never beat the Russell 3000 +1% for private equity and Russell 3000 -1% for Opportunistic Diversified, which used to be the benchmark. Now STRS uses the Cambridge “indices”, which are not real indices because, for example, there is no data publicly available on say the largest 1000 private equity deals. What is being constructed by Cambridge is an “index” based on peer reporting.


I attached a spreadsheet to my aforementioned email to Board members that used calendar year data for the S & P 500 and a Bond Portfolio which uses 10-year Treasurys, Baa Corporate Bonds and 2-month T Bills with various weights for the bonds. I noted the sources of my data and explained in a fair amount of detail how I constructed 6 different 60/40 stock-bond portfolios using three different mixes of bonds. Each portfolio started with a 60-40 mix of stocks and bonds using three different mixes for bonds. Three portfolios started at 60-40 and changed through the year, ending at 70-30, which is about where STRS is today in terms of risk. The other three just stayed at 60-40.

Over 30-years, STRS loses to all six of these portfolios. The losses range between 44 and 94 basis points (bps) on an annual basis. (A bps is 1/100th of a percent, so 44 bps is 0.44%.) That is real money. The bottom line is that between 1992 and 2021, STRS did not beat a 60/40 portfolio of stocks and bonds i.e., a real passive benchmark. Moreover, even when the returns of these six portfolios are adjusted for risk, all six still outperformed STRS.


In 1992 STRS had about $30 billion in assets. My spreadsheet also showed the money lost over 30 years, all other things equal, was between $48 billion and $109 billion. Of course, I told the Board that I realized that all other things had not remained equal i.e., the amount of money we have in assets is a function of the rate of return as well as the burn rate -- the amount by which payments to retirees exceeds contributions. In fact, I would argue that the burn rate is our biggest problem. So, the calculation of money lost is meant to illustrate the magnitude of the losses.


The bottom line is STRS between 1992 and 2021 did not beat a 60/40 portfolio of stocks and bonds i.e., a real passive benchmark. Moreover, each of these portfolios have risk adjusted returns that exceed that of STRS.

Like most pensions, STRS beats the benchmarks it constructs. But it does not beat a real benchmark, i.e., a passive benchmark that is investable and transparent.


This is a classic example of the principal-agent theory in economics where staff and consultants benefit from active investing by creating benchmarks that they can beat, allowing staff to get bonuses while consultants get their contracts renewed. They rely on complexity and the fact that most of us are not investment experts. I believe most members of the Board have good intentions. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


I am not alone in believing that STRS does not beat a passive benchmark.


Richard Ennis just sent me a paper entitled "Lies, Damn Lies and Performance Benchmarks: An Injunction for Trustees.” It will appear on LinkedIn, SSRN (an outlet for scholarly research before it appears in scholarly journals) and eventually appear in the Journal of Investing. For those of you not familiar with Richard Ennis, here is a short bio that appears on his blog.


Richard M. Ennis, CFA, managed money at Transamerica and pioneered quant investing in the early 1970s. He helped create the field of institutional investment consulting at A.G. Becker & Co. Richard co-founded EnnisKnupp, the first consultancy to be recognized as a professional services firm. During his career Ennis received lifetime achievement awards from CFA Institute and Investment Management Consultants Association. His research won Graham & Dodd and Bernstein Fabozzi Jacobs Levy Awards. He edited Financial Analysts Journal. He and his wife, Sally, retired to Sanibel Island, Florida, upon the sale of his firm to Aon in 2010.


One of the main points that Ennis makes in this paper is that most pensions report outperforming their benchmarks, but they do not use real benchmarks to measure their performance. They use custom benchmarks that exhibit benchmark bias. In his paper he explains a passive benchmark must be investable and fully transparent.


Richard Ennis has also done an analysis of STRS’s performance constructing benchmarks used in the article "Cost, Performance, and Benchmark Bias of Public Pension Funds in the United States: An Unflattering Portrait”. In this article Ennis constructs benchmarks for each pension he looks at using three indices: U.S. Stock, non-U.S. stock, and an aggregate U.S. bond index. The methodology he uses was developed by William Sharpe, Emeritus Professor of Finance and Stanford and winner of the 1990 Nobel prize in economics. Although STRS OH was not included in the article, in an email to me he confirmed that he had looked at STRS performance for 10 years and found that STRS underperformed a passive benchmark by 81 bps.


Finally, my email stated that STRS has not had a successful active management program, which is not surprising given the overall track record of active managers. Without some sort of an information edge, beating real benchmarks is basically flipping a coin, except you must pay to play – which is why most active managers lose to an index.


I concluded that STRS needs to change its investment philosophy and move toward index investing.


You would think that after receiving this email that there would have been a robust discussion of my spreadsheet and email. And yet the content of my email and spreadsheet was not discussed at all. Not one Board member said, “your analysis is wrong” or “there is a mistake in your spreadsheet.”


Instead, a majority of Board members focused their attention on whether my sending this email to the Board was a violation of the open meetings law. After a lot of back and forth I think the conclusion was that if members did not engage in discussion via email, there was no violation of the open meetings law. So, then the discussion turned to saying, but there could have been a violation if members had responded, although nothing in my email invited a response. The whole point of the email was to provide food for thought so we could have a robust discussion of our investment philosophy. Then I was admonished by Board members for not having sent my email to the Chair.


The whole experience is akin to Alice in Wonderland. Under the status quo, we have a pension where there is no prospect in my lifetime of restoring a permanent COLA for retirees and active members, and no chance of returning to 30 years for unreduced benefits. But don’t worry -- the staff will continue to get their bonuses for beating the benchmarks they create.


Change requires 6 votes. That means that if you want a COLA and you want a chance of being able to retire after 30 years with unreduced benefits, then you need to convince an existing board member to do the right thing and vote for what is in the members’ best interests or elect a new Board member for the active seat in 2023.

Ohio Auditor Raises Fears About State Teachers’ Pension But Won’t Tell All Until After His Re-election

By Edward Siedle, Forbes

October 27, 2022

When State Auditor Keith Faber announced to stakeholders in the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, including active government workers, retirees and taxpayers, his office was initiating a Special Audit of the pension based upon complaints evolving from a forensic investigation commissioned by the Ohio Retired Teachers Association, there was hope that the lack of transparency, mismanagement of investments and potential violations of law at the fund would finally be addressed.

A year later, Faber is conveniently delaying release of his office’s findings until after his upcoming re-election, even as he publicly expresses unspecific “concerns” regarding the pension.

Fichtenbaum Letter to HPA 2017.2.14.pdf

Prophetic paper written by Trustee Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum in 2017.

Speech at ORTA 2022.10.10.pdf

Speech Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of ORTA by Rudy Fichtenbaum, October 12, 2022

Will the Real Costs Please Stand Up v2.pdf

Will the Real Costs Please Stand Up
by Rudy Fichtenbaum, September 22, 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 13, 2022

OHIO RETIRED TEACHERS ASSOCIATION CALLS ON AUDITOR KEITH FABER TO DETERMINE WHETHER STRS COOKED THE BOOKS TO ENSURE $10 MILLION IN BONUSES WERE PAID


COLUMBUS, OH – Last month, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio (STRS) awarded $10 million in staff bonuses despite reported investment losses of $3 billion last year. STRS justified the bonuses by saying that investment losses could have been billions of dollars worse.


But a new look at STRS records and market performance show that STRS did not report any material loss in the value of its billions of dollars of private equity holdings from January 2022 through June 2022. This glaring omission likely dramatically understated STRS’ losses because public equity stocks lost a quarter of their value during that same time period. As shown in the chart below, market data suggests that STRS may ultimately book a staggering $5.5 billion loss – completely erasing the STRS justification for the bonuses and raising serious questions as to whether private equity losses were intentionally misreported in order to guarantee employee bonuses.


As discussed in The Toledo Blade, STRS’ justification for its “gravity-defying” private equity valuations is an accounting gimmick that conveniently delays losses, seemingly until after the current board could vote to award nearly $10 million in employee bonuses. In stark contrast, the chart above shows that STRS was quick to book gains as public equity markets rose in fiscal year 2021. STRS’ “magic” valuations also appear to conflict with market data from other large public pensions that reported at least a 10% loss on its private equity positions. For example, in July 2022, California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) sold $6 billion of its private equity portfolio at a 10% loss.. Somehow, STRS claims that its private equity portfolio never saw any real reduction in value during the same time period.

“It looks more and more likely that STRS cooked their books and used accounting tricks to ensure they could pay employees their $10 million in bonuses, ” Robin Rayfield, Executive Director of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association said. “On behalf of all retired teachers, we’re calling on State Auditor Keith Faber to get the real numbers STRS won’t show the public and hold STRS accountable.”

The STRS Propaganda Machine

September 9, 2022

The STRS Propaganda Machine

By Rudy Fichtenbaum

The STRS propaganda machine on Facebook and with its E-News has been hard at work trying to mislead members and the public. One of their tried-and-true methods is by making a straw person argument -- an argument that misrepresents or distorts someone’s position followed by an attack the distorted position thus created.

This is exactly what STRS is doing when it puts out misleading statements to try and distract attention away from the fact that it is the only major pension in the country with a negative normal cost. A negative normal cost means that the actuarial value of the benefits earned in a year as a percentage of salary is less than the percent of salary paid to fund those benefits in a year.

To quote Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers “you can’t make old friends” but you sure can lose them when you break your promises and use straw person arguments to deflect criticism and avoid accountability.

Our members have spoken, and it is time for a change!

August 18, 2022

After drops in Ohio teacher pensions, money managers get $10M in bonuses

The board voted 9-2 to approve bonuses for about a hundred members of the investment staff, even though the pension fund lost $3 billion in the most recent fiscal year. Retired teachers told NBC4 they are outraged that their pension fund is losing money and that they have gone years without the promised annual cost of living increases while the people in charge of it are getting bonuses. The vote came one month before three new board members took office.

"I think that’s why they pushed the vote for this month so that it was during the lame duck so that as they were going out they got the last vote in,” said Julie Sellers. “I think it was pretty much a snub to all of us. Our members spoke clearly that they want to change but today that did not happen.”

Click here to read this article online.

August 17, 2022
Ohio teachers’ pension fund investors set for bonuses

Retired teachers in Ohio have not received a cost of living increase in their pensions for years, even though they were promised an annual increase.

The group managing the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) will vote Thursday on huge performance bonuses for the investment staff.

Retirees are furious that they are going without while bonuses are planned for pension fund managers who lost $3 billion in the last year.

Click here to read this report online.

August 11, 2022
Ted Siedle comments on STRS Ohio & Pittsburgh Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund v. The Carlyle Group

"The goal of the forensic investigation ORTA members funded was to improve management of the pension, disclosure of investment strategies and fees, and investment returns. As you know, for nearly two years now, STRS Ohio has responded to our investigation in an adversarial manner-- attempting to discredit our efforts and never once considering that the insights of a leading pension expert might be helpful. Worse still, STRS Ohio has defensively refused to provide investment documents we requested which detail conflicts of interest, fiduciary breaches, hidden and excessive fees and violations of law which the pension has never addressed. As a result, we have been unable to date to provide STRS Ohio members with an analysis of the dangers lurking in your pension's portfolio. STRS Ohio members must instead, as in this Carlyle case, wait for other (much smaller) pensions to bring lawsuits addressing abuses. Let me restate the obvious: Had we been provided the key investment documents we requested nearly two years ago, we would have been able to identify many forms of wrongdoing at that time--STRS Ohio members wouldn't have had to wait and follow in the wake of other pensions in addressing wrongdoing, but could have led the way. STRS Ohio secrecy is causing real harm, which each new revelation of wrongdoing reminds us." - Ted Siedle

City of Pittsburgh Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund v. The Carlyle Group.pdf

“The beneficiaries of the city of Pittsburgh Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund are municipal fire and police personnel serving the city of Pittsburgh. Many are first responders putting their lives on the line every day. They depend on the integrity of the financial markets to provide for their retirement.”

August 11, 2022

An unusual deal gave Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin $8.5 million in stock. He paid $0 in tax on it.

A shareholder of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm formerly led by Youngkin, alleges in a new lawsuit that a 2020 deal enriched executives at the expense of cops and firefighters.

By Gretchen Morgenson


Now, that transaction is under attack by a Carlyle shareholder in Delaware Chancery Court. The suit, filed last week by the city of Pittsburgh Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund, says the $344 million deal harmed Carlyle’s stockholders, who received nothing in return when they funded the payday.

Meanwhile, the Carlyle insiders who received the payouts escaped a tax bill that would have exceeded $1 billion, according to the complaint, which accuses Rubenstein, Youngkin and other Carlyle officials of lining their own pockets at the expense of people like police officers and firefighters.

“The kind of impunity that Carlyle’s control group acted with is shocking and unacceptable,” lawyers for the Pittsburgh pension fund said in their complaint.

Click here to read Gretchen Morgenson's article online.


July 2, 2022

The Blade Editorial Board: Ohio's Public Pension Funds Need Scrutiny

"It’s time for an independent examination of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio and the state’s other public-employee pension funds.

The fees and expenses charged by professionals paid by the funds require vetting. That examination must include a determination of the values of investment funds and the direct investments made on behalf of the pension funds." - The Blade Editorial Board, July 2, 2022

Read the article at https://www.toledoblade.com/opinion/editorials/2022/07/03/editorial-ohio-s-public-pension-funds-need-scrutiny


POLL: Should Ohio Auditor of State, Keith Faber, hire and oversee independent vendors to examine the fees and investment returns charged to Ohio’s pension plans?

Funston STRS Ohio 2022.pdf

June 26, 2022
Fiduciary Performance Audit of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio

Listen to Funston Advisory Services LLC's presentation to the STRS Ohio retirement Board on June 16, 2022

Click here to listen to the presentation.

June 6, 2022
Legislators, Stop Harming Education in Ohio; Fix the STRS Employer Contribution Rate.

In Ohio, both teachers and employers make contributions to the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS). Over the past 38 years, the employee contribution rate has nearly doubled, while the employer contribution rate has remained completely stagnant.

This nearly four-decade-old freeze has made Ohio lag their non-Social Security state peers by approximately 8% in employer contribution rates. Legislators must address this problem by increasing the employer contribution rate and properly funding the State Teachers Retirement System. Most importantly, this increase MUST NOT become an unfunded mandate imposed upon Ohio school districts.

Because Ohio is neglecting to pay its fair share in properly funding the State Teachers Retirees Pension System, dangerous domino effects are impacting Ohio families. Teachers must work longer due to pension benefit cuts. Ohio retired teachers no longer have a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to stave off inflation as it erodes their retirement security. When teachers are forced to work longer, local school districts are burdened with having to pay higher salaries. For example, instead of paying TWO younger teachers $40,000 each, districts end up paying ONE older teacher $80,000. This results in districts having to make difficult choices which impact the quality of education.

Teachers coming out of college will realize that if they choose to teach in Ohio, without receiving Social Security benefits they may not have a cost-of-living adjustment after they retire. This is not the way to attract and retain high-quality educators. Ohio is driving the best and brightest teachers away. Do we want Ohio to be a leader or a laggard in education? We need Ohio legislators to step up and address this issue and fund the benefits they promised current and retired teachers. Ohio cannot go 38 years without an increase in the employer contribution rate increase AND not expect there to be problems.

Click here to sign and share the petition.

STRS Ohio Watchdogs Bulletins

We know that you want to be informed about STRS Ohio and your retirement benefits.

We also know that you're busy and you don't always have time to visit the Watchdogs website or Facebook group.

Sign up to receive periodic bulletins about the Watchdogs' campaign to protect and preserve your retirement benefits and how you can help.

Click here to sign up for STRS Ohio Watchdogs Bulletins.

HB601.SponsorTest.Lightbody.AMiller (2) 2.pdf

June 4, 2022
Lightbody and Miller Introduce Ohio HB 601

  • increase employer contributions to the StateTeachers Retirement System (STRS) and School Employees Retirement System (SERS)

  • establish minimum amounts for certain STRS cost-of-living adjustments (COLA)

  • eliminate an age-related eligibility criterion for retirement in STRS

"A few weeks ago the STRS Board took action that partially addresses our goals. At their March Board Meeting, they approved a one-time 3% COLA and eliminated the age 60 requirement for educators who have taught for 35 years. We are glad to see these updates, but think that House Bill 601 will more permanently address this issue and provide predictability and fidelity to agreements for future retirement benefits that were made to teachers during their active years." - Rep. Mary Lightbody and Rep. Adam C. Miller, Sponsors

June 2, 2022
The Boomer Bust: Retirement Dilemma - Sidebar with Judge Winslow

Edward Siedle talks about Ohio's teachers and STRS Ohio!

Boomers are approaching retirement age but face one big dilemma: not enough savings to retire! And Millennials have it worse. Join Judge Winslow’s discussion with Ted Siedle, nationally-recognized expert, author, and film maker on what’s wrong with our retirement system and how to fix it.

Click here to watch online.

May 23, 2022
Ohio Teachers Pension Touts Past Transparency Awards, Fails To Disclose Special Investigation By State Auditor
By Edward Siedle

"To paraphrase King Mongkut of Siam in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, it is a “puzzlement” to me how a state pension that is supposed to be prudently investing the retirement savings of hundreds of thousands of teachers could refuse to disclose how their money is invested and still be considered transparent—even win a top award from the state auditor! A puzzlement." - Edward Siedle

Click here to read this article online.

May 22, 2022
New Battle at STRS Ohio Over Finances, Investments, and Leadership at STRS Ohio

Watch as NBC4 investigative reporter Colleen Marshal talks to Julie Sellers, STRS Ohio Board Member Elect, and Dean Dennis, Founder of the STRS Ohio Watchdogs, about the philosophy and culture at STRS Ohio which pays high salaries and bonuses to staff while suspending the 2% simple COLA for Ohio's teachers for nearly 7 years.

May 7, 2022
STRS Ohio Board Election Results


On Saturday, May 7, 2022, the results of the State Teachers Retirement Board election were certified by a board of tellers appointed by the State Teachers Retirement Board and Election Services Company — the independent firm administering the election. The results of the election for the two contributing member seats on the Retirement Board are as follows:

  • Julie Sellers, 19,030 votes

  • Steven Foreman, 15,247 votes

  • Jeffrey Rhodes, 10,494 votes

  • Robert A. McFee, 9,817 votes

  • Write-Ins, 319 votes

The results of the election for the retired member seat on the Retirement Board are as follows:

  • Elizabeth Jones, 24,983 votes

  • Rita J. Walters, 21,229 votes

  • Write-Ins, 222 votes


The term of office for Steven Foreman, Elizabeth Jones and Julie Sellers will begin on Sept. 1, 2022, and will end on Aug. 31, 2026.

May 4, 2022
Exposing Wall Street's Pension Looting

"It's the story of, what I call the largest upward transfer of wealth in modern history, one that most people don't know very much about. It's the story of how Wall Street is minting millionaires and billionaires using the retirement savings of teachers, firefighters, sanitation workers and all, really all government workers. And it's a story that corporate media doesn't very well cover all that often. And it's really a story of secrecy. So that's what we're going to be discussing tonight" - David Sirota, The Lever

Edward Siedle, who performed the forensic investigation of STRS Ohio, is one of the guests.

Watch the recording of the chat at https://www.levernews.com/5-4-pensionlivechat/

May 1, 2022
"The bottom line is the index fund portfolio had a higher annual rate of return and took less risk." - Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum, STRS Ohio Trustee

STRS OH v VFINX Part 3.pdf

STRS OH v VFINX: Part 3

Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum
May 1, 2022

STRS OH v VFINX Part 2.pdf

STRS OH v VFINX: Part 2

Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum
April 28, 2022

STRS OH v VFINX Part 1.pdf

STRS OH v VFINX: Part 1

Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum
April 27, 2022

April 8, 2022

A Watchdogs Commentary: Why New STRS Trustees Are Needed

By Dean Dennis

This is an article I lifted for posting. The article is nearly 3 years old, but it is still relevant. As Members we cannot continue business as usually at STRS, nor elect "business as usual" Trustees. This business as usual approach has led to active members paying 14% in contributions while the "normal cost" for their pension is assessed at 12%. Our active teachers are giving 2% of their pension towards liabilities created by STRS under-performance. This is a negative value; we need new Trustees. For the upcoming election, the STRS Ohio Watchdogs, the Ohio Retired Teachers Association and the Ohio Members Only Forum have endorsed Julie Sellers, Steven Foreman and Elizabeth Jones. The Ohio Federation of Teachers have endorsed Julie Sellers and Elizabeth Jones. Please read the eye-opening article below.

By Chad Aldeman

July 22, 2019


This may sound counter-intuitive, but here it is: Technically speaking, Ohio school districts do not contribute toward Ohio teacher pension benefits.

"How is this possible?" you might ask. After all, Ohio school districts are contributing 14 percent of each teacher's salary into the pension fund.

But wait, where is that contribution going? If you pull up the latest actuarial valuation report from the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, you can find out. Table I-1 (not shown in article) shows that the plan estimates the "normal cost" of the benefits are worth 10.91 percent of salary. That is, across all individuals who enter the plan, after accounting for their age or how long they might stay, the plan thinks the promised pension benefits are worth an average of 10.91 percent of each teacher's salary.

You'll quickly start to screw up your face, especially if you know that every teacher is currently contributing 14 percent of their salary into the plan. Fourteen is more than 10.91 percent, how can that be?

This is due to the fact that Ohio STRS has accumulated unfunded liabilities of $24.8 billion. Every single STRS member is contributing 3.09 percent of their salary (14 percent - 10.91 percent) to pay off that debt.

That's not all. In addition to the employee contributions, school districts are also paying in 14 percent of each teacher's salary into STRS. That money is going into the plan, but none of that is going toward benefits. All of it is going to being used to pay down the unfunded liabilities.

In essence, Ohio has created a system where teachers, on average, are getting less out of their pension plan than they themselves put in. To be honest, it's hard to even call this a "retirement" system at all. The system is functioning like a debt accumulation tool and a tax on teachers, with retirement benefits on the side.

Again, this may be sort of hard to wrap your head around, but it's true. The figures above are all based on what the state's actuaries think the Ohio STRS plan will cost over time. Ohio is the only state in such a bad situation overall, but Illinois teachers hired as of 2011 are also paying more into the system, on average, than the state's pension plan thinks their benefits are worth. Other states may be in similar territory for new, less-generous benefit tiers, but they rarely report those data separately.

In contrast, Ohio also offers new teachers the option to join a defined contribution plan with a 9.53 percent employer match. For the vast majority of teachers, that's likely to be the better option.

April 5, 2022
ORTA Endorses Foreman, Sellers, and Jones for STRS Ohio Retirement Board

The current leadership are the root cause of what's wrong with our pension. We urge you to vote for Foreman, Sellers & Jones.

The reason for this endorsement is active teachers have the worst deal in America and retired teachers are not getting what they were promised... It's time for change!

Watch this video on ORTA's YouTube channel.

March 30, 2022
The Myth of Turning Over $65 Billion to Wall Street

By Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum


The OEA leadership and Board members running for reelection are desperate because they know that members are upset. Active members are finding out the truth that they have the worst deal in the country, paying $1 to get a pension that is worth $0.77. Retired members can see through the scam that is being run on them when they are given a one-time 3% “COLA” and told that the Board will look at another “COLA” next year i.e., 2024. The truth is the Board just approved an investment allocation that is expected to earn 6% while approving a discount rate – that’s the expected return on investments – of 7%. Why is this important? It is important because to reduce and eventually eliminate the unfunded liability, STRS needs to earn 7%.

The truth is that to fully restore a real COLA, one that gets paid every year rather than just once, the pension needs more money. When I campaigned for a Board seat, I recognized that the pension needed more money, so I said that I would support an increase in the employer contribution. None of the incumbents running or the OEA leadership have ever campaigned on raising employer contributions. When they get backed into a corner, they might say they don’t oppose an increase in employer contributions, but they have done nothing to try to make that a reality. What could they have done? For starters, they could have had the Board vote on a resolution calling for an increase in employer contributions and directed the STRS staff to start lobbying for an increase in employer contributions.

They could have directed the staff to tell the truth: without more money there will never be a restoration of a real COLA. Instead of going around the state telling everyone what a great job they are doing, they could have started meeting with active teachers and retirees and telling them that if they want a real COLA and a pension that is at least worth what they are contributing, they need to start organizing and putting pressure on the legislature and the Governor. Active teachers and retirees vote. Their family members and friends vote, too. If teachers and retirees were showing up by the busload at the statehouse, organized by OEA and STRS working with ORTA, the Watchdogs, OFT, and AAUP, we could start creating the kind of pressure that is needed to get an increase in the employer contribution and make sure it is funded by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Ohioans who have getting tax cuts for years.

But we should never put all our eggs in one basket. If there are other ways the pension could earn more money, we should explore them openly and honestly. That is why Wade Steen, former board member Bob Stein, and I tried to make a proposal at the November meeting to explore an option that we thought was promising and could earn more money for STRS.


We never got to make our presentation because the staff and STRS consultants, with the complicity of the Board, lied and disrupted our presentation. Then they started telling the big lie that we proposed to give $65 billion to a firm without a track record.

What did we propose? We proposed hiring a specialty law firm to negotiate a contract to create a partnership that would implement a pilot program, a proof of concept that would start with $250 million. Once the partnership agreement was negotiated, we proposed it would come back to the Board for a vote. That is what we proposed.


We never proposed -- as leaders of OEA and incumbent Board members constantly repeat -- that we turn $65 billion over to a firm without a track record. That is lie. But we all know the power of a big lie. If you say it repeatedly, some people begin to believe it.


None of these OEA leaders, incumbent Board members, or staff seemed to have a problem when STRS lost $525 million on Panda Energy, a company that used our money to buy a professional wrestling league. None of these people thought it was a problem when STRS invested $50 million in Infinity Q, whose former CIO and founder was just charged by the SEC with overvaluing its assets by $1 billion, while pocketing tens of millions in fees. None of them were outraged or thought it was a problem when Ted Siedle found widespread failures and mismanagement at STRS. In fact, when an STRS staff member was asked recently about the Panda loss, he said “STRS absorbed it.” What does that mean? It means the members paid for it with our money.


So why the problem with negotiating a contract that the Board would have to vote on before it was implemented for $250 million? That was our proposal! I believe that OEA leaders, incumbent board members, and STRS staff were afraid it would be successful. That would have meant that instead of us continuing to pay an investment staff to send billions of our dollars to Wall Street, Wall Street might have been sending STRS members a check that could help pay to restore a real COLA and help give active members a pension that is worth what they are contributing.

March 22, 2022
Age 60 Requirement Lifted and 3% COLA Granted
So, Why Aren't We Happy?

By Dean Dennis

After a decade of watching their pensions erode, members of STRS Ohio watched and listened during the March 2022 Board meeting as the Trustees voted to provide a 3% COLA and remove the age 60 requirement for full retirement benefits after 35 years.

  • Eleven years ago, retired teachers received a simple (non-compounding) 3% COLA.

  • Eleven years ago, active teachers received a pension with full benefits after 30 years. Active teachers contributed 10% of their salaries to STRS. Retired teachers received a COLA one year after they retired.

  • Eleven years ago there weren't any petitions complaining about STRS, any Facebook groups complaining about STRS, any protest signs at STRS meetings, and no one in Ohio knew Edward Siedle conducted forensic audits. So, what changed?


Around 10 years ago, a nightmare was about to be dropped on STRS members.

  • Active teachers would learn that they were heading towards having to work 35 years and be at least age 60 to receive a pension with full benefits.

  • Their employee contribution would increase to 14%, while their employer's contribution remained unchanged.

  • They would learn that there would not be a 3% COLA for them when they retired, but only a simple 2% COLA. They would also have to wait 5 years after retirement to begin receiving this COLA.

  • Retirees would learn that the language in ORC 3307.67 that stated they "shall" receive a 3% COLA was meaningless. Their COLA was reduced to 2%, would be frozen a year later and then, in 2017, completely eliminated.


Active teachers now understood that they would not have any financial security in retirement. Why did this happen?


Around 2010, STRS management began painting a dire picture to the STRS Trustees. They convinced the Trustees that their Earnings Rate Investment Assumption (projection rate on investments) was too high. Starting in 2012, Trustees would reduce the investment assumption from 8% to 7.75%, then to 7.45%, then to 7%. At every reduction, tens of billions of projected liabilities would be added to the STRS balance sheet. Management could have presented a plan to the Ohio Retirement Study Council as to how they were going to address the new projected liabilities created by the drastic Earnings Rate Investment Assumption reductions. But they didn't. Instead, STRS management convinced our Trustees to renege on the promises made to members and make drastic cuts to teachers’ retirement benefits. The retiree's COLA was targeted and active teachers would work longer for less.

So, in hindsight (10 years later) was this dire picture correct? And what proactive changes have been made since the Draconian cuts?

  • The Earnings Rate Investment Assumption reduction was cut from 8% to 7%. And what have we earned on our investments over the last 10 years? The answer is 9.84%.

  • What proactive changes have been made over the past 10 years? The answer is, nothing significant. Members assumed all the risks and they still do. The employer contribution rate is still the same after 38 years.

  • A major change suggested by the 2006 outside independent audit was how STRS awards bonuses to the Alternative Investment staff as they pertain to their benchmarks. To this day, this remains a problem.

  • The 2006 audit also suggested that the STRS staff grossly needed more internal auditors. STRS management disagreed and none were added.

  • Ten years later, management fees are still a controversy. Members aren't clear as to how much money is going to Wall Street. Members aren't clear as to what our actual investment costs are.

  • There haven’t been any real changes in how we do business. Our investments are still under an "active" management model. The forensic audit cast a shadow as to whether this is a cost for members, or a savings for members.


Still, after 10 years, our Trustees voted to provide a 3% COLA and remove the age 60 requirement for a full retirement after 35 years. So why aren't members celebrating?


Members were pillaged and are still living a nightmare. There has been some relief because something has been returned to us, from that which was taken. Members haven't seen any real changes at STRS. It seems to be the same business plan.


Everyone knows that STRS balanced their books on the backs of its members. There's nothing noble about withholding monies promised to members and reneging on payouts to balance books in order to reach a self imposed 85% funding goal.


Doling out a pittance, doesn't make members happy, it reminds them of what they have lost.

March 17, 2022
Ohio retired teachers get long-awaited changes to pension benefits

Retirees push to restore permeant cost-of-living adjustments, changes to retirement system

By Josh Croup

The State Teachers Retirement Board on Thursday unanimously approved a one-time 3% cost-of-living adjustment, also called a COLA, for eligible retirees.


The board on Thursday eliminated a requirement that was set to take effect in 2026 which would’ve made teachers also wait until age 60 to retire. Several retirees continue their push to lower the work requirement from 35 back to 30 years.


Click here to read the full story.

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.

Teachers Attend STRS Ohio Retirement Board Meetings

During the pandemic, STRS Ohio Board meetings were held virtually. Members attended via webinar software but were not permitted to address the Board during Public Participation.

In-person meetings of the Board resumed on August 19th.

Many thanks to Ohio's teachers who have travelled to Columbus to attend the Board meetings!

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.

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