Health Insurance Sign up Info and COLAs on the next meeting agenda

Important Notice!      Important Notice!

If you value your retirement, you need to attend this luncheon meeting and bring as many other STRS Ohio retirees as you can.


Next ACRTA meeting, October 19 at 11:30 at Christ United Methodist Church

See next article below for making reservations: 



  1. Health insurance for STRS members.  Our insurance window will open Nov. 1 and close mid-December, so it’s time to take a serious look at you current benefits and costs.  A panel - including STRS, Matt Tharp from Central Ohio Group, and Jim Cain from AMBA, which provides our supplemental ORTA benefits - will be our agenda.

  2. Future of our COLA.  Stuck for the rest of our lives without ANY increases, let enough to keep up with inflation?  Gary Russel, who is one of the Deputy Executive Directors and serves DED for Member Benefits and is the Chief Benefits Officer for STRS.  He will be prepared to answer your questions on both health insurance and the future of our COLAs.


You and every other retiree you can bring need to be at this retirement issues presentation.

All ACRTA members should have received the following invitation to our second meeting for this school year:


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

11:30 a.m.

Christ United Methodist Church


Guests - Gary Russel - STRS; Matt Tharp - Central Ohio Group; Jim Cain - AMBA/ORTA

Health Insurance for Retirees

STRS Update: COLAs

This will be of significant importance to retirees as the sign-up period for the new insurance year will start soon (Nov. 1). 

To make your reservation: 

Those with last names beginning with A-L,

please contact Marla Willeke at

or call 419-651-4284

Those with last names beginning with M-Z,

please call Shirley Wolfe at

or call 419-289-7717

Please note Christ United Church requires the wearing of masks. Please respect this request in their facility. 


A prepackaged lunch will be provided you for $15. You are responsible for payment when you make a luncheon reservation unless you cancel a week prior.  

Membership dues for either ACRTA and/or ORTA may be paid at this meeting.  You may also make scholarship contributions.  See you on Tuesday, Oct. 19 at Christ United Methodist Church.


ORTA Executive Director Reports on STRS Board during first in-person meeting since 2019
-STRS deceptions continue to threaten retirements

ORTA Exec. Director Dr. Robin Rayfield reports on troubling actions by the STRS Board.

Dr. Robin Rayfield, ORTA Exec. Director, gave ACRTA an update of issues surrounding our STRS Board which last met on Sept 16, 2021. Among the business items of note, the board heard from Gary Russell of STRS on the status of the health care programs. The staff will recommend a premium rebate at the October meeting if the information from the outside consultant remains positive.

Nine people spoke during the public participation. As expected, all the comments were directed towards the poor management of the pension system by STRS staff.  Board member Rudy Fichtenbaum challenged the notion that STRS is an ‘outstanding organization’ leading to a tiff between him and board member Robert McFee. Mr. Fichtenbaum noted that ”a pension system that charges people more than the benefit they will receive and does not pay its retirees the benefits they were promised is not an outstanding system”.

For most of the day the STRS board participated in its annual investment seminar during which highly paid consultants advise the board what they expect to happen in the investment world over the short term and long range.

Forensic Audit update:

Dr. Rayfield presented on overview of the results and implications of the Forensic Audit prepared by Edward Siedle.  You can access Dr. Rayfield’s Power Point presentation about the audit here. 

The more the audit results are investigated, the worse it seems for any hope for the future of our STRS without legislative action.  The Board has no transparency and refuses to provide the documentations requested even by its own members, suggesting continued efforts to cover up many instances of misfeasance at best, malfeasance at worst.

The Board remains resolute in eliminating COLAs forever in spite of laws that require they provide COLAs to retirees.  What retirees get now – or on the day they will retire - will never increase, only decrease as deductions for medical insurance premiums grow over time. 

ACRTA President Steve Willeke welcomes members to first in-person meeting since October, 2019

Presentation by Edward Siedle:

ORTA is currently working to locate a public venue to host Edward Siedle for a face-to-face presentation of the forensic audit on October 13, 2021.  With the Covid outbreaks this is proving to be challenging.  Should ORTA be able to pull this off they will also make the event available through our Facebook live feed and our YouTube channel. Orta will invite members to attend in person or via technology.

Other notes of interest:

Dr. Rayfield met with OEA leaders to determine areas common interests between ORTA and the OEA and how we might work together. 

ORTA is hoping to conduct a ‘survey’ of STRS retirees next month. This survey will be like the one that STRS uses, asking similar questions related to retiree satisfaction.

ACRTA President Steve Willeke served as host and conducted the business meeting.  

See the Photo Gallery pages for more photos from the 9/21/21 meeting.

ACRTA Chapter Meetings for 2021-22 Next event is 10/19/21

Editor's Note:

The following article was intended for advanced media publication but was rejected by the media outlets, so we are publishing it here.

Dr. Robin Rayfield, Executive Director of ORTA

Speaker for September 21, 2021 Meeting of the Ashland County Retired Teachers Association


The Ashland County Chapter of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association will be meeting on Tuesday, September 21 at 11:30 a.m.  The meeting will be held in the Fellowship Hall at Christ United Methodist Church, 1140 Claremont Avenue, Ashland. Take stairs or elevator downstairs after entering doors by the canopy. We will be offering bag lunches at this meeting, catered by Fergy’s on Main. Please call Shirley Milburn (419 651-1561), if your last name begins with A-L, please call Marla Willeke (419 651-4284) if your last name begins with M-Z. Our lunch cost is $15 and not refundable if not cancelled by September 17.  As per the church's requirements and state and federal recommendations, please wear a mask. We will be seated at round tables, as socially distanced as possible.

Our speaker for the April 21 meeting will be Dr. Robin Rayfield, Executive Director of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association.  He is present at STRS Board of Trustee meetings and advocates on behalf our retired teachers.  He will be speaking about his work as our liaison to the Ohio State Teachers Retirement System. This summer, a forensic audit of the activities of the STRS Board of Directors was held. Dr. Rayfeld will discuss the findings of this audit, an actual audit and the possible forthcoming actions. 

Ashland County Retired Teachers is our local chapter of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA).  With headquarters in Franklin County, ORTA is the voice of Ohio’s retired educators, advocating and promoting the improvement of pensions, benefits and services teachers work for and pay toward throughout their careers. Our local chapter endeavors to support our schools and community in many ways of service. Our purposes and procedures are in alignment with ORTA’s mission, vision, guiding principles and activities.

Those interested in being members of Ashland County Teachers are invited to join us. Membership is open and we welcome those who formerly taught in the Ashland County school systems and those who have retired from the teaching profession and are living in or near Ashland County. Local dues are $10.00 annually or $50.00 for a lifetime membership.  State membership is $30.00 annually or $500.00 for a lifetime membership.  An application for membership and other information is available on our website:

Our officers are Steve Willeke, president; Bea North, vice-president; Sally Ahlers, Secretary; Marla Willeke, Legislative Officer; Bernice Becker, Scholarship and Treasurer; Martha Pendleton, Community Service; Paul Kauffman, Webmaster; and Donna Weaver, Memorial Remembrance. Questions may be directed to Steve Willeke at 419 651 9830.

STRS in Peril

If you value any of your STRS retirement benefits, then you must review the articles herein and visit the websites listed below.  Too much is at risk not to be aware of the disastrous turmoil occurring with in our STRS management.  Some investigators and members are already calling for FBI involvement.  It is essential for all retired and active educators to be informed on what is happening at STRS and get involved in efforts to preserve our retirement system.

Open Letter to STRS Stakeholders from Wade Stein  ( Governor DeWine's Appointee to the STRS Board):

Subject: Forensic Investigation Of Ohio Teachers’ Pension Reveals Widespread Failures And Mismanagement:


Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum is the AAUP representative to the Healthcare and

Pension Advocates of STRS.  His response to latest STRS board meeting

"The High Cost of Secrecy"
STRS forensic audit report is out now!
CLICK HERE to download, print, read and share this sensational report.

Your retirement income for the rest of your life is at stake.

News and Notes

Getting Back to Normal - "Real" ACRTA Meetings

In person meetings of ACRTA are planned for this fall. They will start with the third Tuesday of  September at Christ United Methodist Church on Claremont Avenue.  Fergie’s On Main will provide refreshments.  See Programs and Events.

All retired teachers are welcome to be a part of the Ashland County Retired Teachers Association. For more information, click on the Join ACRTA and ORTA link above.

ACRTA Recent Virtual Meeting:


The Ashland County Retired Teachers Association met virtually with Dr. Robin Rayfield, Executive Director of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association, on April 20, 2021 at 1:00 p.m.  Steve Willeke welcomed Dr. Rayfield and thanked him for providing us with information on the STRS election, the forensic audit, and current ORTA activities.  Robin reported that the forensic audit of the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) may be completed early this summer. ( More information on impetus for the audit may be found on STRS Member Only Forum on Facebook or on ACRTA's website

Dr. Robin Rayfield Reports on ORTAs Efforts to Restore STRS Transparency:

STRS has not released needed financial information that consists of the public records required for the proper completion of the audit investigation.  These records were requested by Mr. Ted Siedle in February.  He is considered the nation’s top whistleblower lawyer.


ORTA is filing a lawsuit seeking these important public records from STRS for the ongoing forensic investigation.


Dr. Rayfield reviewed the investments of STRS.  He stated losses with Panda Power may be worse than previously thought.  STRS invested in five other funds that also may have put additional money into Panda Power.  Therefore, STRS losses may be from $525,000,000 to $1,500,000,000.  STRS says this loss is insignificant compared to the total of the entire monies in the STRS retirement fund.  This “minor” loss has been unreported for years and would have paid for 2.5 years of COLA for retirees! 


Robin spoke about the more than 600 new members of ORTA and his hope to maintain their memberships.  Many of them contributed funds to the forensic audit fund.  Donors were active and retired teachers but also interested citizens as well.  A considerable amount of money was donated by active teachers because they are paying more and getting less from our retirement system.  You can find audit donation information and more on ORTA’S website.


Wade Steen, Governor’s Appointee, asks questions:


Dr. Rayfield reported that Wade Steen, the governor’s appointee to the STRS Board, asked their officers some difficult questions during a recent meeting.  Based on their responses, Mr. Steen, who is a CPA, concluded that their audits are not really audits but merely reviews of the information that STRS feeds the company performing the service.


In addition, STRS states bonuses for fund managers are based on performance benchmarks.  Mr. Steen pressed for facts on this matter.  He determined that there are no actual benchmarks used to determine bonuses.  It is unclear, therefore, how STRS determines these large annual monetary bonuses.  When asked to establish future performance benchmarks for the STRS investment staff, Mr. Steen was told that was too difficult to do.


Other ORTA Efforts:


ORTA plans to make the same exact "satisfaction survey" recently quoted by STRS available to ORTA members.  Robin says they do not know anyone who was asked to complete the STRS survey results quoted by them.  ORTA would like to compare answers of its members to those announced by STRS.


A Central Ohio Regional Meeting is planned for local chapters in September.  Eighteen counties are invited.  He asked us to bring whoever we would like.


The formation of a 501-C3 is planned for any excess forensic monies that have been donated.  This will allow any donations to ORTA be made tax free. This 501-C3 process has begun.


ORTA continues to attend not only all STRS Board meetings but those of many other groups as well. There is an extensive and impressive list of organizations whose meetings they attend  on their website. 

Enough is more than enough - return our COLA.

 When was the last time you received an increase in your State Teacher Retirement System (STRS) benefits – a Cost of Living Allowance (COLA)? 


For most of you it has been five years or more. And if STRS gets its way, you will never see an increase in your benefits during the rest of your life.


STRS Retirees rely heavily on their promised and earned COLA.  It is only through a COLA that we retired teachers can keep up with inflation.  STRS Board members and elected officials have broken their promises to us, Ohio's retirees, and have also placed an unfair burden on Ohio's current teachers.  


Your COLA is suspended indefinitely.  Your STRS Board has stated they will not even discuss our concerns on a COLA again until May, 2022.




Your Ohio Retired Teacher Association (ORTA) is leading a grassroots effort to conduct a “forensic audit” of STRS Ohio. ORTA has contracted with Edward Siedle, a globally renowned expert in pension audits.  Mr. Siedle is a former US Securities and Exchange Commission attorney.  His firm, Benchmark Financial Services, has conducted over $1 trillion in pension reviews.  (To learn more about Mr. Siedle forensic audits, and the rationale behind our decision to conduct such an audit, you can visit:


ORTA achieved raising the $75,000 cost of the forensic audit.  ORTA acted as the fiscal agent, collecting and accounting for donations to pay the fees associated with this project. All money collected for this audit will be through donations of ORTA members and non ORTA members.


Individual ORTA members and local chapters as well as active educators contributed to this effort.  Your Ashland County Retired Teachers Association Executive Board unanimously passed a motion to make a contribution to the forensic audit. 


New ORTA members will find a special membership offer there.  Renewing members can pay their annual membership fee at the same time. 


If you are a friend of a teacher, an active teacher, or a supporter of educational causes, you need to be involved in your retirement system.  One of the best ways to do that is through membership in ORTA.  See our Joint ACRTA and ORTA page.

senior male and female protesting.jpg

Save our Cola

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Save our Cola

Important facts that justify the forensic audit

(adapted from


This decision for a forensic audit did not come easy.  Throughout ORTA’s 73-year history of advocacy for the retired educators, ORTA has strived to ‘keep peace’ with STRS and avoid controversy.  However, since the promised benefits to STRS retirees have been steadily reduced since 2015, and there is no planned return of these promised benefits, it is time for a review of what is taking place with our pension fund.


STRS is in the best financial shape of the five public pension systems in Ohio; however, STRS retirees have gone several years without any promised increase in benefits. Some retirees have gone 8 years without an increase in retirement benefits!


The loss of COLA, despite being promised by STRS and guaranteed in Ohio law at the time of retirement, has no end in sight. When pressed for answers, STRS leadership simply say ‘STRS will only consider providing any COLA after the pension system has reached a funding level of 85%’.


Keep in mind that in over 100 years of existence STRS has only been at funding level of 85% or above a handful of times and has not been at 85% or more in the past decade. At the October STRS meeting, the paid financial consultant for STRS (Callan Assoc.) indicated that STRS is not likely to reach the 85% funding threshold for many years.

Thus, ORTA agreed to lead the collection of donations from STRS members to pay the fees associated with this external and independent review of STRS. To collect these donations ORTA  established an account at our partner Education First Credit Union. All donations collected for this purpose were deposited into the Forensic Audit Account. (


If you are an Ohio teacher or retired teacher, these groups have shown their support:

  • Ohio STRS Member Only Forum (found on Facebook)

  • Ohio's Retired Teacher Association (ORTA),

  • Ohio's American Association of University Professors,

  • Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) and their affiliates and the

  • STRS Ohio Watchdogs.

Petition to the Ohio State House of Representatives:


You can also sign a petition to our legislators and the STRS Board members at this address:

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