Legislative Watch – April 4, 2024

OEA Recommends Sandy Smith Fischer for STRS Board

The OEA Board of Directors has recommended Sandy Smith Fischer for election to the STRS Board. She is running for an open seat representing active teachers on the eleven-member board.

Smith Fischer is an Intervention Specialist in the Streetsboro City Schools. She has twice served as President of her local association and is currently a building representative in her local in addition to serving as Secretary of her Leadership Council.

She strongly believes in standing up for others, especially her fellow educators, and sees serving on the STRS Board as a way to continue her advocacy for the profession. As a member of the Board, she will work to maintain a stable and reliable pension for current and future retired teachers, restore benefits, and manage risks to keep our pension system strong.

Ballots will be mailed to active employees who contribute to STRS and should arrive at their homes this week. Members can vote by mail, phone, or internet. Votes must be received by May 6, 2024. If you do not receive a ballot by April 10 or lose your ballot, please email the Election Services help desk at STRSOHHelp@electionservicescorp.com or call 866-276-1506.

For more information about OEA’s recommended candidate for the STRS Board, please visit https://www.ohea.org/get-involved/oea-strs-board-endorsements/.

OEA Continues to Advocate for Member Retirement Security

Recommending qualified candidates for retirement system boards is just one way that OEA advocates for the retirement benefits that public education employees need and deserve. Others include advocating for active and retired members in retirement board decisions and legislative advocacy.

In recent years, as the financial status of STRS has improved, there have been several benefit changes to restore benefits to active and retired teachers. This includes a 3% cost-of-living allowance (COLA) for retirees in FY 2023 and a 1% COLA in FY 2024. Additionally, the retiree health care program is fully solvent and has seen lower premiums and rebates for enrollees in recent years.

Regarding retirement eligibility, the years of service required to retire continue to decrease incrementally. Last month, the STRS Board voted unanimously to make a permanent change to retirement eligibility to 34 years of service at any age for full benefits. Additionally, members can retire with reduced benefits with 29 years of service at any age. OEA continues to advocate that benefits be restored to active and retired members as the financial condition of STRS improves.

Additionally, OEA supports legislative proposals to increase the employer contribution to STRS to improve the financial status of the pension plan and speed the restoration of benefits. Employer contribution rates have not changed in decades and lag behind other states. At the same time, employees have seen their benefits cut and their contributions increase. This will be a difficult road, but OEA is committed to working with our members and other stakeholder groups to seek this needed change.

Another area of OEA’s advocacy is in fighting for fairness for public employees by seeking repeal of the unfair Social Security offsets. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) are provisions of federal law that reduce the earned Social Security benefits of public employees who also receive a public pension in states like Ohio that do not pay into Social Security. OEA and NEA members have long advocated for repeal of these laws. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is the lead sponsor of a bill to repeal GPO and WEP and a bill in the US House of Representatives has over 300 bipartisan cosponsors. OEA members can also help by contacting their State Senator to support House Concurrent Resolution 6, which would urge Congress to support the repeal of GPO and WEP. Members can take action by clicking here.

For an archive of past Legislative Watch releases, visit the Legislative Watch archive.