Buckeye State Fund Tightens its Belt

September 22, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Change is coming to the beleaguered Ohio State Teachers Retirement System, but it apparently won't include layoffs, according to published reports.

There will be a slight reduction – to a staff of 675 from the current 683 by next June – but that mostly through attrition, according to the Akron Beacon Journal, quoting Dr. Damon Asbury, who was recently appointed to direct the $47 billion pension fund after Herb Dyer was forced from that office last month (see  Dyer Steps Down From Ohio STRS Post ).

While that is down from a staffing high of 735, critics of the pension fund’s practices have called for the layoffs of more than 100 employees (see  STRS Spending Critic Offers Recommendations ).   According to the Beacon report, however, Asbury said a large number of layoffs would adversely affect services to retired teachers, noting that it doesn’t make good business sense to “arbitrarily cut for the sake of reducing.”   Between 1996 and 2002, the staff grew from about 400 to 735.

Other Moves

The staffing cuts were among a series of changes Asbury announced during a recent meeting in Columbus of the STRS board, which oversees the pensions of 400,000 current and retired teachers and professors.   The Ohio fund has come under severe criticism for a number of controversial spending practices during a period when the fund is being crimped by market losses in the fund (see  Ohio Pension Fund Hit for Lavish Spending Practices ).

Among other changes presented by Asbury:

  • Charging STRS employees a fee for using a fitness center in the pension fund’s Columbus headquarters (staffers previously worked out for free).
  • Increasing the fees at the employee cafeteria in the STRS building and adding services to raise revenue.
  • Eliminating retirement parties and other plush events for STRS board members and employees.
  • Reducing the number of credit cards issued to STRS staff.

Not Enough?

Asbury also said he is looking into cutting the number of STRS employees assigned cars, revamping the travel policy for board members and staffers, and raising fees for a child-care center in the STRS building.

However, Chillicothe Superintendent Dennis Leone, a leading critic of the STRS board’s spending practices and the force behind the inquiries that brought the controversy to light (see  STRS Spending Critic Offers Recommendations ), said he doesn’t think the changes go far enough, according to the Beacon report.   Leone had earlier recommended that the STRS staff be trimmed by 140 employees.