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School union board members under pressure to cancel $11K Hawaii trip


Three Ohio School Employees Retirement System board members are refusing to withdraw a request for a $11,232 trip to a conference in Hawaii despite warnings.

State lawmakers on the Ohio Retirement Study Council are expected to fire off a sternly worded letter Wednesday, urging the three SERS board members to call off the May trip.

SERS board members Mary Ann Howell, Catherine Moss and Barbra Phillips skipped the ORSC meeting on Tuesday.

SERS Executive Director Lisa Morris, who advised them against taking the trip, said the fund is fielding calls from the pension system members and retirees who are commenting on the planned trip.

Ohio has five public employee pension systems that are governed by a combination of elected and appointed trustees. They represent 1.7 million workers, retirees and former government employees and oversee an investment portfolio of more than $165 billion. Collectively, the systems budget $270,000 for board travel and education.

SERS, which represents school bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and others, is second smallest of the five systems yet it spent $158,488 last year on board member travel and education, including reimbursing school districts $35,340 for the cost of the board members missing work.

Last year, Phillips spent $20,474 to attend board meetings in Columbus as well as conferences in San Francisco, New Orleans and Philadelphia. SERS Board Chairwoman Beverly Woolridge was the second highest, spending $20,204 on board meetings and trips to San Francisco, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

At the SERS board meeting in January, Howell, Moss, Phillips and a fourth member, Madonna Faragher, voted in favor of the Hawaii travel while members James Rossler and Woolridge voted against it.

The trip comes after lawmakers reformed the public pension systems in Ohio, forcing government employees to work longer and accept lesser benefits. The changes were made last year to shore up the long-term financial stability of the systems.

No one from the other four pension systems is planning to attend the conference in Hawaii.



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