Recently stories have come out about the extravagant spending of School Employees Retirement System (SERS) Board Members. This is the union that represents non-teachers – janitors, bus drivers, custodians and retirees. The most recent planned spending is a trip to training in Hawaii for a cool $7,500.
At a time when all pensions are under fire, but especially public pensions which are funded by us the taxpayers, this is insensitive and unconscionable spending. According to the DDN, the spending for out-of-state trips by the Board has been over $240,000 over the past years – and you can bet they did not go anywhere other than vacation resorts. Many of the Board Members have taken advantage of the opportunity to spend days on each end side of the trip – at taxpayers cost – to do additional site seeing. In the business world, this is usually on your own cost.
My personal favorite Board Member is Barbara Phillips, who has managed to spend over $49,000 on out-of-state travel in the last four years. In real life, the mild-mannered Ms. Phillips is a school bus driver. But in her off hours she is a member of the SERS Board. Despite having trained financial advisors managing the $11 Billion portfolio, Ms. Phillips feels her input is extremely important. Ms. Phillips spoke of her need to attend the training(according to the Dayton Daily News): “We are talking about billions of dollars , how to invest. And I do not have a college education. . . so therefore I needed the education, absolutely.”
From my experience:
(1) My personal experience, and talking with friends, is that “training” events are a mixture of training and boondoggle. There is training provided, but it is rarely i-depth enough to make you a master on the subject. Rarely does the training last full days for every scheduled day. And there is always planned time provided for fun activities.
(2) In the age of Skype, virtual conferences and MOOGs, do we really need to fly to Hawaii to get trained?
(3) I am not the smartest guy in the world by any means. I have an MBA in finance. But to think I could possibly take any training and somehow feel competent to manage a portfolio of billions of dollars is ludicrous. The complexity of the financial market is incredible these days. Rose and I have a financial advisor and we have someone else do our taxes because both of those things are too darn complicated for us. We pay them to be professional. We review the status with the advisors periodically. But to think we could possibly manage things better than them – on a part-time basis – I’m not buying it.
That’s why I say, perhaps they are a bit of out touch.