MOUNT GILEAD — There is a little bit of good news along with the bad news for retired teachers in Ohio. The good news is that they will receive a 3 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) very soon. The bad news is that audits found that there has been “probable fraud found” in the Ohio State Teachers Retirement System (STRS.)
Dr. Robin Rayfield of Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA) gave Morrow County retired teachers an update on STRS news at their April meeting held at Trinity Church in Mount Gilead.
Rayfield reported how he and many other retired educators have been asking STRS why they haven’t gotten a cost of living raise in the past five years. STRS had scaled back the COLA for at least 10 years before completely ending it from 2017 to 2022.
He has pushed for meetings with the STRS executives and board. In the process he found questionable practices and investments in the retirement system.
Rayfield quoted the Boston College study, “STRS has the worst deal in the United States and is ranked 50th in retirement funds.”
Ohio teachers pay more into retirement and receive the least in payments.
While teachers haven’t received a cost of living increase in several years, the top 30 retirement association executives have received lavish bonuses. Rayfield said the average 2020 bonus was $86,000 above and beyond very generous salaries and benefits.
At the same time STRS lost $500 million on the purchase of a company that went broke. Rayfield added there is evidence of $17 billion in questionable investments such as hedge funds. Some of the 135 funds listed as investments by STRS are no longer in business.
“They (STRS) aren’t transparent and they underreport fees as costs, “said Rayfield who believes money is corrupting in the association.
The problems with STRS have been caught with the ORTA audit and now the state auditor is investigating STRS investment practices. However, Rayfield is concerned that the big bonuses are still being paid and investment practices still are in question.
Rayfield is hopeful that having board members who understand and are informed can make a difference.
Rayfield endorsed three candidates for STRS board membership. They are active candidates Julie Sellers and Steven Forman, and retired candidate Elizabeth Jones. The voting deadline is May 2.
The one-time, permanent COLA increase, passed by STRS in March, will occur on a teacher’s retirement date anniversary. The 3 percent increase is based on a teacher’s salary at the time of retirement. That is a very small amount for teachers who retired 15, 20 or more years ago.
Retired teacher Linda Ruehrmund said she is very appreciative of the work Rayfield has done, but is concerned for the future. She emphasized it’s important for retired teachers to support ORTA and their efforts to be vigilant with the STRS retirement funds.
For more information see ORTA.org and search the High cost of Secrecy.