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  • STRS Ohio Watchdogs

STRS members fear what legal fight could bring to board

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Some board members of the State Teachers Retirement System believe its last board meeting ended improperly in an attempt for leaders to maintain control over the $92 billion pension fund.

The STRS board meeting ended abruptly April 18 after ousted member Wade Steen was reinstated by a court ruling. An appeals court sided with Steen, ruling that Gov. Mike DeWine overstepped his authority when he unilaterally moved to replace Steen before the end of his appointed term.

“Oh, I was so angry. I couldn’t see straight,” said Julie Sellers, an STRS board member. “I felt like they again pulled the rug out from underneath us.”

Steen was vocal in calling for changes to STRS after the system paid out $10 million in investment staff bonuses in a fiscal year ending in June 2022 while the pension fund for teachers lost more than $5 billion. Last April, STRS proposed setting aside another $11.1 million for performance-based bonuses for the staff in 2024 — a 30.6% increase from the prior year’s incentives.

“It particularly upset people, you know, in the year when the pension lost a lot of money that it was

like a record year for bonuses, ” said STRS board member Rudy Fichtenbaum.

Steen’s presence on the board gave reform-minded members a majority, allowing them to make

desired changes, including the return of cost-of-living adjustments for retirees and an end to lavish

bonuses. Sellers said she was stunned when, less than an hour after Steen reclaimed his seat, Chair Dale Price called an end to the meeting before reaching the end of the agenda — including discussion on investment staff bonuses planned for this year.

Sellers said she believes Steen was removed from the board because of his support for reform.

Ending the meeting early was simply another tactic to delay change, she said.

In a statement, Price said he ended the meeting because “it became apparent that I was unable to

conduct the meeting in an efficient and effective manner.”

“I decided to conduct the necessary business and adjourn the meeting, ” Price said.“I plan to have the Retirement Board consider the remaining items from today’s agenda at the regularly scheduled MayBoard meeting.”

The governor’s office is urging an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court. An appeal could result in

Steen being kept off the board for the meeting in May.

But Sellers believes that last week’s meeting is still underway.

“I don’t believe that they ended the meeting properly,” Sellers said. “We did not vote on it. We tried to say, ‘Look, we don’t even have a motion and a second. We didn’t vote to do this.’ I don’t believe that the meeting was ever officially ended.”

By Colleen Marshal, NBC4 April 24, 2024

Did you know that ORTA has been paying for Wade Steen's legal fees as he fights to be reinstated to the STRS Ohio Board? Governor DeWine has signaled that he plans to ask the Supreme Court to intervene and deny Wade Steen his rightful seat on the STRS board. ORTA needs resources to continue this battle in the courts. Please consider making a donation to ORTA's Pension Defense Fund.



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