Despite pressure from legislators and the public, the School Employees Retirement System board of trustees voted yesterday to continue with a trip to a conference in Hawaii but adopted a policy limiting travel for board members. The board voted 4-3 to approve an $8,000, five-day trip to Hawaii as planned, defying an outcry by Ohio lawmakers and the pension fund's members.
Despite pressure from legislators and the public, the School Employees Retirement System board of trustees voted yesterday to continue with a trip to a conference in Hawaii but adopted a policy limiting travel for board members.
The board voted 4-3 to approve an $8,000, five-day trip to Hawaii as planned, defying an outcry by Ohio lawmakers and the pension fund’s members.
Valerie Rodgers, executive director of the School Employees Retirees of Ohio, an advocacy group for retired cooks, bus drivers, janitors and other school employees — the same people represented by SERS — said “the overwhelming majority of retirees object to this trip.”
Today is the last day the fund can pull out of the trip, said Tim Barbour, the board’s spokesman.
“After that, we presumably lose all of the registration fees whether or not someone attends,” Barbour said.
The board did change its travel policy to be more in line with the state’s other four public pension systems. They voted 6-2 to adopt caps on out-of-state travel to three trips each year per member. Each member can only spend $8,000 under the new policy. The old travel policy had no dollar-amount caps for out-of-state travel.
But the policy the board adopted isn’t what the Ohio Retirement Study Council — a state oversight committee that must approve the board’s new policy — asked for. The council suggested a cap at three trips per year but wanted a spending cap at $6,000 annually. The council’s chair, Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, said he expects the new policy won’t be approved.
Representatives and senators on the council have in the past threatened legislation to bring the travel policies into line, and Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, did so again yesterday.
He said a bill will be introduced soon to make sure pension systems have reasonable travel policies in place. He did not say whether the new legislation would apply to all pension systems or just SERS.
In January, the SERS board first approved three members to attend the conference in Hawaii, but one has since backed out because of health concerns. Barbra Phillips, an Ashland City Schools bus driver, and Catherine Moss, a former West Geauga Schools employee, are still set to go.
The trustee board is made up of four school employees, two retired employees and three “ financial experts” appointed by state officials.
Joshua Jamerson is a fellow in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.