Pension Reform Legislation Makes Significant Changes to SERS and STRS

On September 26, the Ohio General Assembly enacted sweeping public pension reform legislation. The legislation consisted of a package of five bills, including Senate bills 341 and 342, affecting the School Employees Retirement System (SERS) and the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS). Both bills will become effective on January 7, 2013. The most significant changes to each system are highlighted below.

SERS (SB 341)

  • Changes retirement eligibility requirements
    • Members who have less than 25 years as of August 1, 2017 will be eligible to retire at age 57, with 30 years
  • Changes retirement benefit formulas
    • Benefits will be unreduced for members who had less than 25 years of service credit on August 1, 2017 but are at age 67, with 30 years when they retire
    • Benefits will be reduced for members who had less than 25 years on August 1, 2017 and are not at age 67 when they retire
  • Changes eligibility requirements for disability benefits
    • A member’s disabling condition must have occurred before contributing service terminated
    • Members now required to attend vocational rehabilitation, if recommended, to continue receiving disability benefits
  • Establishes new penalties for SERS employers
    • $100 per day for failure to transmit contributions withheld from employees
    • $100 per day for failure to timely transmit any amounts due to the Employer’s Trust Fund
    • $100 per day (not to exceed $1,500 total) for failure to timely transmit payroll information
    • $50 per record (not to exceed $300 total) for each month of failure to transmit a detailed statement on an employee’s prior service and personal information

STRS (SB 342)

  •  Increases the amount of member contributions beginning July 1, 2013 through July 1, 2016
    • Contribution rate will be increased by yearly increments from 10% to 14%
    • Changes the final average salary (FAS) years from three to five
      • For benefits beginning on or after August 1, 2015, members’ five highest years of compensation will be used to determine the FAS
      • Changes retirement eligibility requirements
        • For unreduced benefits (early retirement):

Now- 8/1/15

Any age and 30 years; or age 65 and 5 years


Any age and 31 years; or age 65 and 5 years


Any age and 32 years; or age 65 and 5 years


Any age and 33 years; or age 65 and 5 years


Any age and 34 years; or age 65 and 5 years


Any age and 35 years; or age 65 and 5 years

On or after 8/1/26

Age 60 and 35 years; or age 65 and 5 years

      • For  reduced benefits:


Age 55 and 25 years; or age 60 and 5 years


Any age and 30 years; or age 55 and 26 years; or age 60 and 5 years


Any age and 30 years; or age 55 and 27 years; or age 60 and 5 years


Any age and 30 years; or age 55 and 28 years; or age 60 and 5 years


Any age and 30 years; or age 55 and 29 years; or age 60 and 5 years

On or after 8/1/23

30 years; or age 60 and 5 years

  • Reduces the rate used to calculate benefits to 2.2% of final average salary
  • Reduces the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to an annual 2%
    • No COLAs will be granted from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014 to persons retiring prior to July 1, 2013
    • No COLAs will be granted until July 1, 2015 to persons retiring on or after July 1, 2013

ODE Begins Accepting Applications for Third Grade Reading Guarantee Grants

On October 29, the Ohio Department of Education began accepting applications for the Early Literacy and Reading Readiness competitive grant program. As part of the framework known as the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, $13 million in grants is available to schools to help early elementary students gain the necessary reading fundamentals by the end of third grade.

The grant is intended to encourage districts and community schools to design and implement a K-3 early literacy and reading intervention concept plan that will assist students in improving and enhancing their reading development. Grants will be awarded based on the quality of the plan.

Individual school districts and community schools can receive up to $100,000 in funding and consortia of three or more partners can receive up to $250,000. Priority will be given to partnerships.

The deadline to apply is December 31. More information, including access to the application, is available here:

Appeals Court Upholds Discipline of Online Student Speech

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the suspension of two students at a Missouri school for creating and maintaining a racist and sexist blog. The issue involved whether the district had violated the students’ First Amendment free speech rights by disciplining them for off-campus speech. The blog had been created off school property and could not be found through a Google search. However, the district had evidence that school computers had been used to access the site multiple times and to upload files to the blog.

Additionally, the posts created a disruption at school. Talk of the blog spread quickly and teachers had difficulty managing their classrooms. Several teachers testified that it was the most disruptive day of their entire careers. The district was able to identify the blog creators and suspended them for ten days. The students filed suit, alleging First Amendment violations and seeking a preliminary injunction of the discipline. The lower court granted the injunction, but the appeals court reversed the decision.

In reversing, the appeals court looked to the standard established in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which upholds student speech as long as the speech did not cause a substantial disruption at school. Although the blog was created off-campus, its content was clearly intended to “target” the school. Because of this, it was reasonably foreseeable that the speech was would cause a substantial disruption to the school community. Under the Tinker standard, such speech is not protected by the First Amendment.