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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

WILL REPRESENTATIVE SCHURING CONTINUE TO BE THE "POLITICAL DARLING" OF STARK COUNTY TEACHERS?


DISCLAIMER:  Yours truly's spouse is a retired teacher.

Republican J. Kirk Schuring has been a member in the Ohio General Assembly since 1993 when he was appointed (Ohio House) to replace the retiring Dave Johnson. In 1994, he was elected to a full term.

On November 3, 1991, Ohio's voters bought into a Republican initiative and imposed term limits of 8 consecutive years in the Ohio House and Senate, respectively.

After serving eight years in the House, he ran for fellow Republican Scott Oelslager's seat (being vacated because of term limits) in 2002.  He remained in the Ohio Senate through 2010 when he switched back to the House (with Oelslager going back to the Senate).

One of things about Schuring and Oelslager that is a mystery to the SCPR, is how they have become the "political darlings" of Stark County teachers. 

The Report's focus today is on Schuring because he has had the most involvement with Stark's teachers in an area they hold near and dear:  their retirement.

Schuring surfaced in this context in 2002 as a member (chairman for at least part of the time) of the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC). 



The ORSC describes itself this way:
The Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) was created in 1968 to assist the state legislature, governor, and other public officials in the formation of sound public pension policy, and is one of the oldest public oversight councils in the country.
 Unfortunately, for Schuring, 2002 was not a good time to be on the ORSC.  This is about the time that Enron went bust and the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) lost $66 million from its investment in Enron.  Moreover, in the outcry of teacher indignation of having suffered this grievous loss to their retirement futures, it was discovered that some STRS officials were "living high off the hog."

Schuring pulled a Houdini in 2002/2003.  Though teachers were "damn mad," he managed to convince them at a teacher community meeting held at the North Canton Community Christian Church that somehow, even as a member of the ORSC, there was nothing he could have done to prevent the huge loss and the abuse of STRS funds by some of its then administrators and board members.

It seems to the SCPR that Schuring has been endorsed and supported by the likes of the the Canton Professional Educators' Association, the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers without fail election after election after election.

However, the "terms of endearment" between the teachers and Schuring may becoming to an end.  It is beginning to appear that the rules of the teachers' pension system are about to change and the anticipated changes will not be for the betterment of teachers.

STRS has never fully recovered from the $66 million Enron loss, which, when coupled with the huge downturn in the stock market because of the financial collapse of American banking brought on by wildly speculative investments has put STRS in a deep, deep hole.

Initially, STRS asked for a partial bailout by Ohio's taxpayers.  STRS sent a proposal to the Schuring and his fellows at the Ohio Retirement Study Commission in the fall of 2010 asking for the Legislature to approve a 2.5% increase in the local school district's contribution rate (phased in over five years) to the STRS defined benefit plan for teachers.

Schuring et al were having none of that.  Although Schuring had no real opposition in the 51st (which he obtained in a term limit trade with Scott Oelslager), he knew that there would be elections beyond 2010 and that Stark Countians would not be too keen on increasing their contributions for teachers.  He knew that that between classified employees and teachers, Stark Countians are paying about $50 million a year in contributions to STRS through their local school districts.


 So STRS is back to the drawing board as this blog is being written to come up with a plan (not including additional school district contributions) to make the STRS plan solvent long-term; which it is not presently in terms of having the money to pay its total obligations.

Some of the remedies (among a number) to be considered to make the plan solvent, include:
  • changing how soon teachers can retire with full benefit
  • reducing Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for existing and new retirees
  • changing from a three to a five year calculation of the Final Average Salary (FAS)
 What will be interesting to see when the 2012 election cycle approaches, is whether or not the likes of the CPEA, the OEA and the OFT will be sending thank you notes to Representative J. Kirk Schuring.

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