From ORTA's New President
President Dean Dennis
Greetings ORTA Members,
As your new President, I am grateful to the leadership of the Presidents before me, namely Bee Lehner, Kara Mendenhall and Chris DeMarco. I also want to acknowledge Robin Rayfield, ORTA's Executive Director, and Mia Landrum ORTA's Office Manager, who work tireless for our organization. My involved with this group of individuals has led me to my commitment to help ORTA with its mission to make our pension system more effective for Ohio's educators. I believe that ORTA's advocacy and monitoring of our pension plan will make a difference.
ORTA members, thank you for supporting our 76 year old organization and for your dedication to the teaching profession. Please know the ORTA office depends on the leadership, compassion and camaraderie found in ORTA's five regions and their local chapters.
Some background about myself. Both of my parents were the first in their family to go to college, both went into education and both drew their pensions from STRS. My dad grew up in rural New Holland, Ohio, and retired as a principal from the St. Bernard School District in Ohio. My mom grew up in Cincinnati and retired as a math teacher from the Finneytown School District. She also served as the local Finneytown Education Association (FEA) President. As a child, the first acronym I knew was "STRS" as my parents often talked shop at the dinner table. Growing up, my brother and I knew teachers didn't get rich. But we knew it was an honorable profession. In addition to teaching, I remember my mom taught sewing on the side and my dad painted houses. Our parents taught us that life was what you made of it.
I graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a Psychology degree and shortly thereafter obtained a Masters degree in Education. Armed with a degree I could actually use, I launched a 35 year career with The Cincinnati Public Schools. I began by career by teaching severe behavioral handicapped children.
Eventually, I became one of the first out of classroom Lead Teachers for the Cincinnati School district and oversaw the district's School Social Work Department. In between serving in this position, I served 10 years in the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT) office as a Field Representative. These duties included enforcing the Collective Bargaining Agreement and working with the district's CFT Building Representatives. When I retired in 2008, I was overseeing the School Social Worker Department again and serving as the district's court liaison. I also was serving as a CFT Vice President.
In 2010, I became aware of the planned Draconian cuts that STRS was going to present before the Ohio Legislature. Like many of you, I felt the changes were unfair for both active teachers and retirees.
However, what I really wanted to know is, how and why did this happen? I started attending the STRS Board meetings with Bob Buerkle, former CFT Retirement Chair, to listen for an explanation that made sense. There really weren't any good answers. Often I would sign up to speak to offer ideas or express my displeasure. I felt no one was listening and STRS management and the majority of our Board were modeling the definition of the word "inertia."
It was while attending these meetings, I got to observe Dr. Robin Rayfield representing ORTA. He would also address the STRS Board. Meeting after meeting Robin would ask the STRS, "what is your plan to restore benefits?" Robin was always polite but persistent. When he'd sit back down, on occasion, I'd walk behind him and say, "they aren't going to answer you, they don't have a plan."
But STRS did have a "plan." It was what they did. They simply cut and withheld benefits to compensate for their subpar investment practices that weren't able to keep pace with the payouts members were promised or expecting. My thoughts were, not paying what were once promised obligations isn't a plan, it's a failure.
The current problems at STRS are three-fold: 1) The Employer Contribution rate has been locked at 14% for 40 years and they haven't made any lobbying efforts to increase the contribution rate. 2) STRS is actively managing their investments and continues to move more and more into risky Alternative Investments. These investments have too many non-disclosure agreements and hidden fees. Briefly, Alternative Investments are investments in which STRS is a Limited Partner but the monies are controlled by the General Partners. STRS cannot audit the value of these investments. It is questionable under Ohio Code 3307.15 whether these investments are even legal. STRS has approximately $20 billion in these investments. 3) STRS is dogmatic that their active investments outperform passive Index Investing practices. STRS states their case in the face of overwhelming evidence that demonstrates it doesn't. You may have read some articles written by Board Member Dr. Fichtenbaum and national investment expert Richard Ennis who challenge STRS over this issue. To form your own opinion, type into a Google Search, "How often do investment firms beat the market?" Keep in mind after your research that STRS earns their bonuses for beating their Benchmarks (which are tied to the market) 100% of the time.
So, here are my goals.
1) Increase Awareness, Increase Membership. We need to focus on making sure our pension system works for all members. Other teacher state pension plans don't require working 34
years; most also have an inflation formula for making sure once retired, your pension isn't stagnant.
We need to move towards a goal of reduction in years required for full pension benefits which includes a COLA that protects a member's purchasing power. We will offer membership to active and retired teachers and let them know that our focus is to make sure STRS is maximizing contribution dollars and not wasting their dollars on hidden fees, non disclosure agreements and investments that cannot be independently audited.
2) Elect Board Members who share our goals of transparent investment practices and will question STRS spending practices that don't benefit members. We need Board Members who demand transparent investments and who are open to exploring to new investment approaches. We need Board Members who direct STRS Lobbyist to work for members.
3) Lobby the Legislature to increase the Employer Contribution. The STRS Employer Contribution has been at 14% for 40 years. Meanwhile, other non social security states like Ohio average around 23% for their Employer Contribution. The $3 billion gap between the STRS monies collected annually in contributions and the payout obligations to members is unacceptable. ORTA needs to take a leadership role in lobbying the legislature to increase the Employer Contribution. This is critical in order to restore what has been taken away from us.
Let's continue our momentum. See if each of you can recruit one person to become an ORTA member and start visiting our new website for updated information. My Best, Dean Dennis
Finding Your COLA
Many of our ORTA/ACRTA members have asked how to find their COLA amount and effective date. Here are the steps to follow:
1. Log onto STRSOH.org
2. Login (username/password)
If you have never logged onto your retirement account, you will create your account first.
3. Complete "Multifactor Authentication" process.
4. Click on “My Home Page”.
5. Click on "Recipient Account".
6. Scroll down to access “Cost of living adjustment (COLA)”.
7. Your “Anniversary date” and “effective date” of your COLA will be posted.
8. Your retirement base (Benefit Base for COLA) on which the 3% will be determined is shown. All COLA increases are calculated on the original benefit amount (base) and are not compounded.
9. Your monthly increase (before taxes and deductions) is shown.
We’ve Only Just Begun!
With the election of two ORTA-supported STRS Board members, we have won only one battle in a much larger war. We must get one more active teachers Board member elected next May. NEA and OEA will spend millions of dollars against us – even more than they did in the last election - to retain control of the Board, to keep the status quo, and to protect their Wall Street alliances and current unjustifiable staff benefits.
This is not an effort to just re-establish an already-state-lay mandated COLA. The STRS Board must begin to value the welfare of retirees.
The current majority on the Board employs the STRS staff which should be there to the benefit of us retirees and future retirees. Unfortunately, the Board has totally surrendered to the dictates of the staff, which with the support of the current majority on the Board, will fight to protect their own outrageous benefits and self-interests. We must continue to demand an open, honest, and transparent board that has the will to represent the interests of those who paid/pay into the system.
In addition to making contact with legislators, writing editorial letters, and sharing information with other retirees, we need to make contact with active teachers and help them understand what is happening to their future retirements.
Many of our ORTA/ACRTA members are also supporting two other independent groups who are fighting to change the culture of the STRS Board and turn what should one of our greatest advocates back to showing as much honest concern for our welfare as they do for their own. There is NO COST to join either one.
1. STRS Ohio Watchdog. These fighters for retirees have researched and accumulated a wealth of resources documenting and trailing the misfeasance (or maybe malfeasance) of the Board and actively fight for our benefit:
STRS Ohio Watchdogs https://www.strsohiowatchdogs.com/
2. The Ohio STRS Member Only Forum provides an information exchange for members who are doing extensive research into the activities of the STRS and its Board members, past and present. They have identified many incriminating documents and data.
Ohio STRS Member Only Forum (moderated by John Curry) at
Click HERE to read a sample of articles shared from these two websites.
ORTA Creates Pension Defense Fund
An Ohio court is the latest battleground in our fight to bring common-sense reform and accountability to our failing pension system. Check out the below editorial to learn more.
ORTA has established a PENSION DEFENSE FUND to ensure it has the legal and professional resources necessary to continue its fight for pro-teacher policies and the reinstatement of pro-reform STRS board member Wade Steen.
Please consider a contribution of $10, $25, $50, $100 or even more – every dollar will be critical in this fight to take back our pension system.
In his more than seven years on the STRS board, Wade Steen has been an advocate for Ohio educators by fighting for transparency, accountability and change. He’s uncovered millions in hidden fees paid to Wall Street hedge funds and fought against unearned “performance” bonuses for STRS staff.
STRS is broken. Help us fight back by supporting board members like Wade Steen who are trying to fix it.
Save our Cola