STRS Ohio Watchdogs

STRS Ohio Watchdogs monitor the management and investment practices of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio.

We advocate for prudent and transparent investments, the restoration of the COLA for retired teachers, and the rollback of additional years of service required for active teachers.

This site will provide you with information about the work that is being done by Ohio's active and retired teachers to protect and preserve our retirement benefits. Check back often for updates.

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.

May 26, 2021
Alumni Talk: Ted Siedle Explains
"Who Stole My Pension"?

Bard College at Simon’s Rock and OLLI at BCC jointly present Forbes contributor Edward "Ted" Siedle to discuss his new book, Who Stole My Pension?: How You Can Stop the Looting. Ted, a Simon’s Rock alumnus, is nationally recognised as an authority on pensions and investment management matters. In 2017, he secured the largest Security and Exchange Commissions whistleblower award in history and in 2018, the largest Commodity Futures Trade Commission award in history.

Joining Ted for the online conversation will be Chris Tobe, a leading pension investment consultant and author of four books and dozens of articles on transparency and corruption in pensions and investments. Chris is a former member of the Kentucky state pension board. Says Siedle, "as a state pension trustee and whistleblower who contacted the SEC about mismanagement at the nation’s worst funded pension, he knows plenty about pension and investment shenanigans."

May 26, 2021
Lawsuit Filed to Force Teachers' Pension Records

By Jim Provance
Toledo Blade

COLUMBUS — A lawsuit filed with the Ohio Supreme Court accuses the pension fund for teachers of hiding behind “trade secrets” when it comes to complying with an outside forensics audit financed by its members.

The litigation, likely just the first of a series, asks the high court to order the 500,000-member State Teachers Retirement System to turn over un-redacted documents related to investment earnings, fees paid to outside money managers, and comparisons of the system's performance with similar systems across the country.

The lawsuit specifically targets reports from Toronto-based CEM Benchmarking, Inc., a consultant hired by STRS to conduct an annual cost effectiveness analysis. The filing contends that information supplied by CEM was heavily redacted to protect what it claims is proprietary information.

“We know already...that STRS staff does not know the costs of all the investments that they have made,” said Ted Siedle, president of Benchmark Financial Services and a former Securities Exchange Commission attorney who was hired by the Ohio Retired Teachers Association to conduct the forensic audit.

Read this article online at https://www.toledoblade.com/local/politics/2021/05/24/lawsuit-filed-to-force-teachers-pension-records/stories/20210524120.

May 24, 2021
Is STRS Ohio Facing an “Existential Threat” and a Downward Spiral?

The STRS Ohio Retirement Board met on May 19 & 20, 2021.


This is what STRS Ohio told us about those meetings


Looking at future expectations, Cheiron noted that the board’s investment consultant, Callan LLC, expects lower than normal returns over the next decade. Future expectations for all asset classes have declined in the past year. Callan’s 2021 estimate for STRS Ohio’s portfolio return for the next 10 years is 6.02%. The board and Cheiron are expected to have additional discussions about STRS Ohio’s economic assumptions at the June board meeting. (STRS Ohio)


This is what they didn’t tell us…


Finally, in March 2021, both Callan and STRS staff gave presentations to the Board on various matters including the future financial outlook for STRS. Following those presentations, the Board engaged in discussion over whether STRS Ohio was facing an “existential threat”. Because employer contributions to STRS are statutorily fixed and the plan has one of the highest negative cash flows in the nation, one significant market correction could indeed provide credence to the discussion of an existential threat. (Cheiron)


The combination of both a fixed statutory employer contribution rate, and fixed benefit structure, along with significant negative cash flows is a unique plan dynamic in the STRS Ohio plan. A significant future market drop could send a plan with these characteristics into a downward spiral from which recovery would be very difficult to achieve without significant contribution increases and/or benefit cuts. (Cheiron)

May 22, 2021
Alternatives to the Current STRS Ohio Investing Strategy

By Rudy Fichtenbaum
STRS Ohio Board Member - Elect


In my last post, I wrote that one way to fix our pension was to increase employer contributions, and the second was to improve STRS investment performance. In this post I want to concentrate on the latter by looking at some alternatives to STRS investment strategy.

One alternative is to look at a purely passive investing strategy such as investing in index funds. A second is to look at innovations being used by other pension funds.

Imagine if there were another public pension that had an alternative investment strategy that yielded greater returns with less risk and is more than 100% funded. Wouldn’t it be worth looking at their investment strategy? Well, such a pension exists, and it is the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP). HOOPP has a discount rate (the assumed rate of return, which has a major impact on the unfunded liability and the funding ratio) of 5% and is more than fully funded. Like other pension funds, HOOPP has faced the challenges of two stock market crashes in the 2000’s but was better able to weather that turmoil and emerge stronger. What is HOOPP doing that STRS is not doing?

Let’s look at HOOPP’s actual returns. In 2020 they reported a 11.42% annual return, and a 10 - year return of 11.16%. Moreover, HOOPP achieved these returns while taking considerably less risk than STRS. How do they invest? They use an approach called liability driven investing. The scatter plot below shows HOOPP in the upper left-hand corner and STRS and most other pensions, all earning less than their assumed rate of return and taking more risk.

Pension funds like STRS view total expected returns as being driven by three main components: 1) risk free return, 2) contribution from the overall market return, and 3) returns from superior management skill. But what this approach ignores is that it is possible to increase returns through the use of transactional trading expertise and technology “TET”. This fourth contribution to returns is what Wall Street banks and hedge funds earn when they sell TET to pensions like STRS! But HOOPP has shown that it is possible for pensions themselves to use their comparative advantage of permanent capital that is not subject to withdrawals or redemptions to enhance returns and reduce risk through the use of transactional trading.

Is this the answer for STRS? I don’t know but given HOOPP’s performance it seems like failing to at least examine this strategy is an abdication of the Board’s fiduciary responsibility. Using HOOPP’s investment returns, STRS would be 114% funded. Not only would we have a COLA, but we might also be looking at cutting member contributions.

At the end of the day, beating manipulated benchmarks jointly chosen by STRS staff and the consultants who depend on STRS for business, as well as continually telling us that STRS is in the 90th percentile compared to peers, means nothing if STRS does not have enough assets to keep its promises to members. Telling members that we are doing better than many other pensions, is cold comfort to members who have lost their COLA or are paying 14% of their salary for a pension that has an actuarial value of 10.8%.

How do we increase returns without increasing market risk? I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. But clearly one component of that strategy needs to be reducing investment expenses, most of which are generated by STRS’s alternative and real estate investments. Another component would be to use transactional trading to enhance returns, as an alternative to active management which has clearly failed to solve our problems.

Click here to view this article with graphs.

May 15, 2021
What are the Characteristics of a Good Pension?

By Rudy Fichtenbaum
STRS Ohio Board Member - Elect

Teachers are generally people who are willing to sacrifice current income because they believe by shaping young minds, they can make a difference, helping students realize their full potential. People go into teaching because they believe in service, in giving back to communities that gave them the opportunity to get an education. Ask anyone “Who was your favorite teacher or college professor?”, and they will almost always be able to answer in an instant. They will also be able to tell you how that individual made a difference in his or her life. Teachers know they are not going to be rich, but when they started teaching, they were promised a dignified and secure retirement and a guarantee that inflation would not impoverish them.

A pension fund is not a partnership (STRS’s mission statement notwithstanding). A partnership is either a legal relationship between two or more joint principals or a relationship requiring close cooperation between parties with joint rights and responsibilities. A pension is neither. A pension fund is similar to a mutual insurance company where members get the right to select management that works in the interest of members.

STRS is our pension. We paid for it with our hard-earned money, and we have a right to expect that the people who serve on the Board will represent our interests. We have right to expect the STRS management team to work in our interest, and in return we should be willing to compensate them fairly. Although STRS engages in many of the same activities as mutual funds and hedge funds, it is fundamentally different because the people whose money STRS invests cannot withdraw if they feel they are not being treated fairly.

So, a pension needs to have a culture that ensures that the STRS management team serves members. If all you care about is making money and getting a bonus, then you are working in the wrong business. At presentations by the STRS management team at board meetings, we continually hear about how returns are exceeding benchmarks, even if those benchmarks were chosen or manipulated to enable staff to get bonuses. But even if STRS were using legitimate benchmarks and the STRS management team were outperforming, they would not necessarily be doing a good job for members. That is something that the STRS management team does not seem to understand. At the end of the day, we (the members) measure the success of the pension, not by its ability to outperform benchmarks, but by its ability to provide us with a secure pension.

So far, the only proposals put forward to “fix” our pension by the STRS management team have been to increase member contributions, raise the years of service and the retirement age, increase the years used to determine the FAS, and cut and then eliminate the COLA.

What is needed is a two-fold solution. First, the management team with the Board and the majority of stakeholders should be working together to increase state support for education, specifically to increase employer contributions. Employer contributions have not increased since January 1984. Contrast that with the 60% increase in employee contributions since 1984. A comparable increase in employer contributions would raise their contributions to 22.4%. This would still be below the median employer contribution rate of 25.3% in non-Social Security states for 2019 according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Again, contrast the low level of employer contributions with those of employees. Active members contribute 14%, far above the median in non-Social Security States, which is only 9%.

There are about 500,000 STRS members; many of us have spouses, and we all have families. Together, we can wield more than a little political power! It is time to start organizing, working to elect public officials who recognize that they must adequately fund education or risk losing the ability to attract the best and the brightest to become educators.

The second and most immediate solution is to look for new and innovative ways to invest that can increase returns without increasing risk. Instead of thinking that with active management we can outperform Wall Street or by falling for investing in new assets classes like private equity and hedge funds, we need to look at other pensions that have been successful in providing adequate funding for their members.

May 12, 2021
Impact of Pension Columns Being Felt in Columbus

By John Damschroder

Fremont News-Messenger

At the risk of sounding like a one-topic writer, I beg your indulgence for an update on the impact that attention paid to the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) in this column is having.

Next week the Ohio Retirement Study Council will vote to release a Request for Proposal (RFP) for fiduciary and actuarial audits of STRS, six years after the legal deadline for those documents, which has only been red-flagged in this space by the Fremont News-Messenger.

Moreover, the RFP notes the requirement that the performance review be conducted by an independent fiduciary auditor.

The auditor’s conflict of interest that made the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) illegal will not be repeated at STRS.

Surely, that is because of national attention on investment performance and results reporting at STRS. I am not the only investigator who has noticed the vast gulf between claims of high performance and low costs by STRS and the actual results, stripped of public-relations polish.


Read this article online at https://www.thenews-messenger.com/story/news/2021/05/12/damschroder-impact-felt-columbus

May 8, 2021
Congratulations to
Rudy Fichtenbaum!
Elected to the STRS Ohio Retirement Board

Rudy Fichtenbaum has won the election for one of two retired member seats on the STRS Ohio Retirement Board. Incumbent Robert Stein won the other retired seat.

Fichtenbaum is a Professor Emeritus of Economics at Wright State University. He has a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and was a faculty member at Wright State University from 1980-2015. He served as the National President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) from 2012-2020. He also served on the Executive Committee of AAUP at Wright State (AAUP-WSU), and as the Chief Negotiator, including during the contract negotiations leading up to the historic 2019 strike. He was also a member of the Executive Board of the Dayton-Miami Valley Central Labor Council, where he represented AAUP-WSU. He has represented the Ohio Conference of AAUP in the stakeholder’s coalition Health Care Advocates (HCA) to help save health care benefits provided through STRS for retirees. HCA eventually became Health and Pension Advocates (HPA), and he has continued to represent OC-AAUP at HPA where he has been an outspoken critic of healthcare and pension cuts.

May 2, 2021
Members of Teacher Pension Fund Planning Lawsuit to Force Transparency

By Jim Provance
Toledo Blade


Nearly 1,000 current and retired Ohio educators, skeptical of the true financial shape of their $90 billion state pension fund, are preparing to sue to force greater cooperation with a $75,000 self-funded investigation of its books.


The forensics audit, financed through money raised from members, is being undertaken by pension investment expert Ted Seidle — a former Securities Exchange Commission attorney, financial forensics investigator, and co-author of the book “Who Stole My Pension?”


The public records lawsuit will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to force the State Teachers Retirement System, serving some 500,000 active, inactive, and retired members, to release information that investment firms have claimed is proprietary or a trade secret.


“The fundamental definition characterizing a public pension fund is transparency...,” Mr. Seidle said. “Any investment not willing to comply with full transparency is, by definition, inappropriate.”


Read this article online at
https://www.toledoblade.com/local/politics/2021/05/02/members-of-teacher-pension-fund-planning-lawsuit-to-force-transparency/stories/20210430128

April 26, 2021
Internal Chief Audit Executive for STRS Announces Retirement

Audit Committee Decides a Public Posting Isn't Warranted

By Dean Dennis

Today (4/26/21) the STRS Audit Committee held an emergency meeting to address the retirement of Dave Tackett, the STRS Chief Audit Executive. The five member Audit Committee voted narrowly, by a 3 to 2 vote, not to publicly post the position of Chief Audit Executive for our 90 billion dollar pension fund.

When the five member audit committee returned from executive session, immediately a motion was made and seconded by Board members Robert Stein and Claudia Herrington to nominate current Assistant Chief Audit Executive, Robert Vance, to replace David Tackett. Board member Wade Steen voted "no," stating process as the issue. He suggested the position of Chief Audit Executive of a 90 billion dollar pension fund deserves a public posting. Board member Jeffrey Rhodes also voted "no." Breaking the tie was Board member Rita Waters whose "yes" vote supported filling the position internally. Next, the nomination will have to go before the full Board at the Board meeting in May.

As members of STRS, do you feel comfortable with the position being filled internally, or do you feel that the position deserved to be posted publicly?

April 25, 2021
Audits Await Ohio Teacher Pension
1 Investment Lost $525 Million

By Anna Staver
Columbus Dispatch


The State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio is getting three independent audits in 2021.

Two audits come from the Ohio Retirement Study Council, which advises state lawmakers on all five public pension systems.

The third audit, however, is sponsored by a group of retired teachers who say Ohio is mismanaging the pension fund while disseminating false and misleading information to stakeholders.

The Ohio Retired Teachers Association raised $75,000 for a "deep dive" into the pension fund's management, Dean Dennis said. STRS is supposedly doing well but retirees haven't had a cost of living increase in years.

It's time, Mr. Dennis said, to find out why.

Read this article online at https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/2021/03/09/ohio-retired-teacher-group-pays-outside-audit-strs/6867765002/

April 21, 2021
ORTA
to File Lawsuit Seeking Records for Ongoing Forensic Investigation of STRS Ohio

Through a grassroots donation campaign that began on October 28, 2020, The Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA) engaged Edward Siedle of Benchmark Financial Services to conduct a forensic audit of the $80 billion Ohio State Teachers Retirement System. Mr. Siedle, who is a former SEC attorney and internationally recognized pension expert, has performed over $1 trillion in forensic reviews of public pensions across the United States and regularly uncovers mismanagement and fraud. He has received record-breaking whistleblower awards from federal regulators for assisting government in prosecuting Wall Street wrongdoing. Public pension systems across the U.S. are notorious for paying high fees for risky investments and getting poor performance.


On February 19, 2021, the law office of Marc Dann, Ohio’s former attorney general, submitted a public records request on behalf of Mr. Siedle to STRS requesting records related to the pension’s investment managers, investment consultants, performance compliance auditor, investment cost monitor, financial auditor, custodians, as well as board and staff.


While STRS Ohio has provided hundreds of pages of documents the pension has refused to provide certain key documents about STRS investments in Private Equity and Hedge Funds. Those Documents are critical to Mr. Siedle’s ability to understand the value and appropriateness of such high-risk investments. The records withheld, many of which were withheld at the request of the investment managers themselves are clearly public records and Ohio law requires that such records be provided to the public upon request.


After months of denials of requested information and slow walking the responses, the decision has been made to file a lawsuit to compel transparency.


The lack of cooperation by STRS is even more surprising given that the pension is well-aware that ORTA’s forensic review was commissioned, as well as paid for by participants, with the stated objective of improving management and oversight of the pension. Pension fiduciaries legally required to discharge their duties with respect to the funds solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries should welcome an independent review by a nationally recognized expert. Further, given the longstanding, profound fiduciary breaches and disclosure failures that have already been identified at the pension, it is clear STRS can benefit from an independent review by an expert not of its own choosing.


Transparency has ceased to be a priority at STRS but remains of great importance to taxpayers in Ohio as the pension collects money paid by taxpayers through its public pension system. “Knowing how much STRS has invested in each asset and how much those assets are worth is critical to understanding the health of our public pensions,” says Robin Rayfield, ORTA’s Executive Director.


For more information please contact:

Dr. Robin Rayfield Executive Director Ohio Retired Teachers Association 614-431-7002

Edward Siedle Benchmark Financial Services 561-703-5958

April 14, 2021
Stand Your Ground to Move Pension Policy

By John Damschroder
Fremont News-Messenger

The 100 percent loss of a $525 million direct investment in Panda Power by the State Teachers Retirement System is not the end of the story.

Five STRS alternative investment funds; Ares Capital, Avenue Capital, GSO Capital, HIG Capital and Oaktree Capital, with a combined total of $1,140,969,501 from Ohio teachers retirement money also invested in the bankrupt merchant power generator Panda.

STRS says, “to our knowledge none of the funds in which we are invested with these managers have exposure in Panda.” But because these funds have been given trade secret protection by STRS, the teachers’ pension has no knowledge of what has been purchased with their dollars. It’s the way Ohio’s pensions structure their alternative investments.

The lack of detailed portfolio knowledge allows the pensions to avoid headline risk like more losses in Panda, while both fund managers and pension staff can base bonuses off asset valuations that cannot be checked.

Read this article online at https://www.thenews-messenger.com/story/news/2021/04/14/damschroder-stand-your-ground-move-pension-policy/7187844002/

Active and Retired Teachers Attend STRS Ohio Board Meetings

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

During the pandemic, STRS Ohio Board meetings are being held online. Members of the public are not permitted to address the Board during online meetings.

Click here to read the speeches made by active and retired teachers at past board meetings.

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Active and retired teachers attend STRS Ohio Board meetings to protest the suspension of the COLA.

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.

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Meet Our Leadership Team

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 began attending STRS Ohio Board meetings in the early 1990s and never stopped. Dean lobbies the Ohio Legislature on behalf of Ohio's teachers. Dean is a retired teacher from the Cincinnati Public Schools.

Cindy Murphy is our webmaster and social media manager. 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.