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NEW Podcast: The Retiree View of Ohio's Pension Drama

"I just want my COLA"

“[T]hey over-report performance. They under-report fees and costs…We actually are going backwards by trying to beat the market.”

Ohio teachers and retirees—and every Ohioan, come to think of it—would be forgiven for being both frustrated and confused about the recent turmoil involving the teachers’ pension fund, known at the State Teachers’ Retirement System.

Too few understand this story…please spread the word…


It’s definitely been a whirlwind:

  • Two straight elections where last-minute shenanigans interrupted a clear mandate from the teachers/voters.

  • The Governor’s 2023 termination of a board member (his own appointee) found to be illegal by two courts, yet no investigation into the Governor’s actions.

  • Almost exactly a year later, accusations by the Governor and Attorney General of a “private takeover” of the fund, followed by a new lawsuit to remove two board members who have been long-time voices for more transparency.

  • A vote last week for two new boards members to serve as chair and vice chair of the pension board.

Now that’s a lot!

Now imagine that your very life and livelihood wholly depend on the pension fund that is at the center of this struggle. And imagine knowing that you’ve been paying into this system for years or decades—that it’s your pension fund—only to have it cease paying cost of living adjustments (for some, as many as nine years) while providing only unsatisfactory answers as to why.

In my last post, I presented all that’s happened through the eyes of the retirees and teachers themselves. I got a lot of positive feedback that that was helpful.

So I decided to go even a step further. I decided to speak directly with someone who’s been on the front line of this for years, leading the organization that represents both retirees and active teachers paying into the system. And who rely on the system.

His name is Robin Rayfield, and he’s a retired teacher, principal, superintendent and now serves as the executive director of the Ohio Retirement for Teachers Association.

Whether you’re a teacher or retiree trying to understand all that’s happened, or any Ohioan trying to understand what’s happening and how it might affect your community and you (because the pension is so huge, that all this has an impact way beyond teachers and retirees), I think Robin and my discussion will be helpful and eye-opening.

I know I learned a lot.

Here are a few key quotes to look forward to:

  • “I have members—many thousands of members—whose retirement is maybe $30,000 a year. How are these people supposed to live on $30,000 a year?…So those losses of COLA are extremely painful.”

  • “We have people who had to go nine years without a COLA.”

  • “‘Tell me what the plan is. What’s the pathway back to COLA?’ Never, never, never did they respond….I asked that question a dozen times: What is the plan?”

  • Staff bonuses: “100% of salary. If you make $200,000, you get $200,000 in bonus. If you make $400,000, you get $400,000 in bonus…They’ve never not gotten the bonus…We had trouble understanding that.”

  • [W]e’re getting hammered in this alternatives market. The private equity. The private capital. The hedge funds. Getting killed in fees.”

  • “I voted for Mike DeWine…But he has single-handedly done more to hurt public education in his terms as Governor than all the other Governors combined….He’s hell bent on getting rid of [] public education, and for that, I’m embarrassed that I voted for him.”

  • “What I want is my COLA. I want good return. I want every opportunity to make money to be fully vetted.”

  • “We hope that we’ll get transparency…Ohio politics needs to be cleaned up.”

  • And so much more…

WATCH the interview above. And feel free to share with others you know who might be concerned about all the chaos.


Background links:

A few references made in our conversation:

Here’s the map that we talk about showing the economic impact of the pension in every corner of Ohio:

Here is a link to a description of the lawsuit and allegations being made against two members of the board.

Here is a link to the detailed reply made by now-STRS Board Chair Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum.

Here is a link to the Toledo Blade editorial assessing the court case: “The AG has dusted off a 2021 controversy to keep reform elements from taking over the school board, and it’s not a good look for the 2026 gubernatorial hopeful.”

And here is the response by the leaders of the Ohio Federation of Teachers and Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors (OCAAUP) about the allegations: “The baseless claims that have been made amount to slander. Any real investigation would reveal the frivolity of this lawsuit. We fully support Dr. Fichtenbaum and hope that STRS can get back to the business of serving its members.”


Pepperspectives is a reader-supported publication. To help offset some of the costs of production of Podcasts like this, please consider becoming a paid subscriber…

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