Ohio AG probes STRS teacher pension board; retiree group calls it ‘sour grapes’

Ohio Attorney General David Yost has opened an investigation into State Teachers Retirement System pension board members over a possible takeover by private interests, according to the attorney general’s office.

“Pension board members are required by law to act in the best interest of the teachers whose money they invest,” Yost said. “I will take whatever action is necessary to protect teachers against private interests attempting to hijack their retirement accounts.”

Yost cited an anonymous letter that his office and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office received recently. The letter centers on a handful of board members accused of trying to get the teacher retirement system (STRS) to use a different system than the one it currently uses and with which the system found multiple problems.

Robin Rayfield, director of the Ohio Retired Teachers Association, pushed back against concerns voiced this week by Yost and DeWine.

“Reformers won the battle of ideas through a fair democratic process over the last six elections,” Rayfield said. “Teachers voted for reform because reform is desperately needed. Our actions in support of reform have been legal, ethical and necessary. This anonymous letter is nothing more than sour grapes from those who have lost.”

Under Ohio law, the attorney general can take civil action against an STRS board member who breaches the member’s fiduciary duty. STRS Ohio oversees about $90 billion in pension funds for about 530,000 retired school employees.

Aon, the STRS governing consulting service, recently terminated their contract with STRS, which DeWine called a “huge red flag.”

Aon did not give any reason for the termination in the letter sent to STRS but asked that STRS agree to an earlier termination date of May 1 instead of the date listed on the contract of June 24. Under the terms of the contract, STRS can terminate for any reason with 30 days notice, and Aon was required to provide 60 days notice.

STRS board chair Dale Price also downplayed concerns.

“Recent audits demonstrate that STRS Ohio is well-run and that the pension fund is in sound financial position,” Price said. “Questions raised involve board governance. Teachers in the classroom and retired educators should know their pension is safe and secure. STRS Ohio will continue to protect the stability and integrity of the organization and will fully cooperate with all offices in their review of the pension system.”

STRS’s current director, Bill Neville, remains on paid administrative leave after allegations last November that he mistreated employees and made inappropriate remarks to some. However, investigators didn’t find any illegal activity.

The STRS board is also in the middle of an election, with the current members deeply divided about whether reform is needed under the current system.

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