Dr. Robin Rayfield, Guest Columnist Columbus Dispatch
Jan. 19, 2024
The State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio continues to make state and national headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Billions in investment losses.
Millions paid in unearned staﬀ bonuses.
And now, STRS Executive Director Bill Neville is indefinitely suspended pending a formal investigation. Reported allegations made by STRS staﬀ include sexual harassment, violent outbursts, and verbal abuse.
By any objective standard, STRS is broken.
Just ask the half-million Ohio teachers who must pay more and work longer to get less in retirement due to years of mismanagement.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Reform at STRS is inevitable.
Harbinger of reform at STRS ousted
Reform-minded candidates markedly won each of the past five STRS board elections. In May of 2023, the 11-member board finally reached a pro-reform majority to usher in real transparency, accountability, and sound investment practices to reclaim lost benefits for retirees and transform the futures of active membership.
In short order, those opposed to reforming STRS orchestrated the removal of pro-reform board member Wade Steen through the only path possible - Gov. Mike DeWine. Steen immediately challenged the removal in court.
Steen is the harbinger of reform at STRS. He uncovered millions in hidden fees paid to Wall Street hedge funds and unearned “performance” bonuses for STRS investment staﬀ. As the Toledo Blade Editorial Board put it, “Mr. Steen’s push for transparency and cost control seeds the cloud for political scandal and is behind his ouster from the STRS board.”
The clock is ticking. Where is the ruling?
Nine months after Steen was locked out of board meetings, we are still waiting for a decision from the Tenth District Court of Appeals to reinstate him to the board. The clock is ticking. Teachers are counting on the court to do the right thing by Ohio law— and to do it quickly.
Steen’s reinstatement and the protection his presence provides to the pension fund is critical. STRS is now lobbying lawmakers for an increase in the employer contribution (the amount school districts pay into STRS on behalf of educators).
It is true that Ohio school districts contribute less toward educator pensions than other states. The Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association has long supported an increase in the employer contribution. But additional money - without significant managerial reform - is insuﬃcient to improve conditions for active and retired educators.
Steen’s case has been fully briefed for months, and Magistrate Thomas Scholl has had ample time.
Steen’s remaining on the board diminishes with every day of the court’s inaction. Teachers and retirees have been waiting for his decision for long enough. Given the dysfunction at STRS, we ask the court to issue a decision as soon as possible.
Robin Rayfield is the executive director of the Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association, whose mission is to advocate for Ohio’s active and retired educators.