COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Retired teachers in Ohio have not received a cost of living increase in their pensions for years, even though they were promised an annual increase.
The group managing the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) will vote Thursday on huge performance bonuses for the investment staff.
Retirees are furious that they are going without while bonuses are planned for pension fund managers who lost $3 billion in the last year.
“I feel like I’ve been cheated out of the last six years of the income that I should have had,” said retired teacher Bee Lehner. “I’ve been taken advantage of and maybe lied to.”
“If the STRS board votes to give this record high $10 million in bonuses to its employees for only losing $3 billion last year, I feel like they’re going to be spitting in the face of every retired teacher who’s struggling with out-of-control inflation,” said Steven Foreman, a newly elected member to the STRS board.
Foreman is an active teacher who joins the board next month, which is too late to try to block the bonuses.
“Since 2017, STRS has cut benefits to teachers while giving themselves these lavish pay raises and tens of millions of dollars in bonuses,” he said. “They’ve done all of that while breaking their promises to teachers and allowing a multi-billion shortfall to grow out of control.”
STRS spokesperson Nick Treneff seems to look at the investment numbers differently.
“We have about 70 percent of our assets internally managed,” Treneff said when asked about paying bonuses in the face of such a financial loss. “And we know that internal management saves us more than $100 million a year.”
Treneff said the investors outperformed the investment benchmarks set by the board.
“So investment managers that STRS, by and large, provided $1.8 billion, that that wouldn’t be in the coffers today without their outperformance,” he said, adding that in the fiscal year 2021, STRS had its best return on investment in 38 years.
According to the asset mix and portfolio report, the fund was valued at $94.8 billion on June 30, 2021; on May 31, 2022, it was down to $91.8 billion – a $3 billion loss.
For a massive number of retirees who went years without their promised annual increase, that’s a massive number.
“That promise is not being kept to membership and I feel like that’s wage theft,” Foreman said.
“I agree with you 100 percent because I’ve heard people talk about they had plans to retire and maybe move into another kind of housing or purchase something, and now that’s off the books,” Lehner said.
As far as what’s to be on the books for Thursday’s vote? Losses totaling $3 billion and $10 million in board-approved bonuses.
“That’s probably the worst part of it,” Lehner said. “It seems like a train that won’t stop.”
The current STRS board did approve a one-time 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retirees. Treneff said bonuses to the 100-member investment staff are based on a five-year performance model.
A spokesperson for the Ohio Retired Teachers Association said over the last 10 years, STRS investments underperformed the S&P 500 by $8 billion.