ORTA State Director speaks to retired teachers from Morrow County

MOUNT GILEAD – Along with the bad news, there is some good news for retired teachers in Ohio. The good news is that they will be receiving a 3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) very soon. The bad news is that audits have found “probable fraud” in the Ohio State Teachers Retirement System (STRS.).

dr Robin Rayfield of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA) provided an update on the news of STRS to retired teachers from Morrow County at their April meeting, held at Trinity Church in Mount Gilead.

Rayfield shared how he and many other retired educators have asked STRS why they haven’t received a cost of living increase in the last five years. STRS had scaled back COLA for at least 10 years before ending it entirely from 2017 to 2022.

He has pushed for meetings with STRS executives and the board of directors. In doing so, he came across questionable practices and investments in the pension system.

Rayfield quoted the Boston College study as saying, “STRS has the worst business in the United States and ranks 50th among pension funds.”

Ohio teachers pay more in retirement and receive the lowest payments.

While teachers haven’t received a cost-of-living raise in several years, the top 30 executives have received generous bonuses from pension associations. Rayfield said the average 2020 bonus is $86,000 on top of very generous salaries and benefits.

At the same time, STRS lost $500 million by buying a failed company. Rayfield added there was evidence of $17 billion in shady investments like hedge funds. Some of the 135 funds listed by STRS as investments are no longer in business.

“They (STRS) are not transparent and do not disclose fees as costs,” said Rayfield, who believes money corrupts the association.

The problems with STRS were recorded with the ORTA audit and now the state auditor is examining the investment practices of STRS. However, Rayfield is concerned that the big bonuses are still being paid and investing practices are still in question.

Rayfield hopes having board members who understand and are informed can make a difference.

Rayfield endorsed three candidates for STRS board membership. They are active contestants Julie Sellers and Steven Forman, and retired contestant Elizabeth Jones. The voting period ends on May 2nd.

The one-time, permanent COLA increase, passed by STRS in March, occurs on the anniversary of a teacher’s retirement. The 3 percent increase is based on a teacher’s salary at the time of retirement. That’s a very small amount for teachers who retired 15, 20 or more years ago.

Retired teacher Linda Ruehrmund said she was very grateful for the work Rayfield had done but worried about the future. She emphasized that it is important for retired teachers to support ORTA and their efforts to be vigilant with the STRS retirement funds.

For more information, go to ORTA.org and search High cost of Secrecy.

Retired Morrow County teachers gather for their April luncheon. Retired teachers include, from left: Nancy Burdsall, Phylis Miller, Judy Keil, Bonnie Hildebrand, ORTA Director Robin Rayfield, Linda Ruehrmund, Kay Evans, Diana Gottfried, Sally Dye, Pat Rinehart, and Kathy Kemp. Seated are Joan Myers, Marilyn Weiler, Shirley Dunahue.

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