If you are an Ohio teacher, or if you care about someone who is, this post may be of interest. If not, feel free to move on to cat videos or what passes for political discourse these days.
Members of STRS–the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio–are currently electing three members of the STRS Board: two active seats and one retired seat. The election has attracted candidates, and those candidates have attracted a lot of attention.
A number of friends and acquaintances have honored me by asking for my view of these elections. I cast my ballot for Rita Walters today.
For Ohio educators–particularly career educators–STRS plays the role that Social Security plays for others. When Social Security was set up in 1935, public employees in many states were excluded from the program. Nationally, 6.6 million public employees nationally derive their retirement benefits from plans like STRS.
For decades, these plans chugged along pretty well. However, as Baby Boomers aged, the number of benefit recipients ballooned, largely due to increases in life expectancy. In 2012, the Ohio General Assembly ordered changes to Ohio’s public pension plans that resulted in changes that have affected both active and retired public employees. 1
The financial picture has improved: some of those 2012 austerity measures are being eased, and the fiscal position of STRS is better than it has been in a very long time.
That hasn’t prevented the injection of a fair amount of demagoguery into the STRS elections. Rival candidates have been attacking incumbents, implying that they have solutions that elude the incumbents. The fact is that there are no magic bullets. STRS Board members have fiduciary responsibilities, and a Board member elected with a predetermined agenda has already breached those responsibilities.
The platform statement of Rita’s challenger makes it clear that she has such an agenda, and it demonstrates a dangerous misunderstanding of the role of STRS Board members. The challenger appears to promise what she can’t deliver, and she confuses the role of legislators with that of the Board.
Rita Walters has the training and experience needed to continue to make sound decisions for Ohio’s retired teachers; she’s been doing that. The fund is doing better than it has for years, the COLA has started back, and for actives, the age 60 requirement for retirement has been eliminated.
My advice to my friends and colleagues is to vote to re-elect the incumbents. For retirees, that’s Rita Walters. For actives, those are Jeff Rhodes and Rob McFee.
Votes are due Monday, May 2.
- As a young teacher, I assumed that my retirement, like Social Security, was supported by the full faith and credit of my fellow citizens. Turns out that wasn’t true: the 2012 legislation sent the message that teachers would have to figure out, and pay for, the solution. ↩