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From SERS’ humble beginning as the Cleveland Custodians Pension Fund to today’s organization that serves more than 190,000 members and retirees, find out how SERS has become Ohio’s third largest public pension fund.

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1927 A group of Cleveland custodians sponsors legislation known as the School Custodians’ Pension Act. The act makes it possible for local boards of education to create pension funds in their own districts for their nonteaching employees. The Cleveland Custodians Pension Fund is created – the only such fund to be organized in the state.

1933 A group called the Cleveland Board of Education Employe [sic] Welfare Association is formed through the efforts of an attendance worker for Cleveland City Schools, Theodore J. Deringer.  The group expands the guidelines of the custodians’ fund, and includes plans for retirement allowances for all nonteaching employees in Ohio’s public schools.

1936 The Ohio Association of School Business Officials is formed and joins the effort to promote a statewide retirement system for nonteaching school employees. Representatives of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio (STRS, created in 1920) and the Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio (OPERS, created in 1935) are consulted to help draft legislation to present to the legislature.

1937 House Bill 217 is sponsored by Cuyahoga County Representative Hiram H. Cully, and introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives on Feb. 3, 1937. The bill is passed by both chambers and signed into law on April 13, 1937 by Governor Martin L. Davey. The state provides $5,000 in initial start-up money, and the system begins operating on Sept. 1, 1937. The system’s first offices are located at 85 East Gay Street in Columbus. 

1937 The first Retirement Board consists of two elected members, W.V. Drake and Theodore J. Deringer, and three ex-officio members: the Ohio Attorney General, State Auditor, and the head of the State Teachers Retirement System.

1938  Thomas G. O’Keefe becomes the first executive director of SERS and serves until 1947. 

1938 SERS merges with the Cleveland Custodians Pension Fund and total membership rises to 10,268 with assets of $1.1 million. The first benefits paid in 1938 are disability payments totaling $827.88 for 16 members.

1947 Ward Ashman becomes SERS’ second executive director and serves until 1969. SERS experiences tremendous growth during Ashman’s tenure – membership grows from 19,000 members to more than 100,000 and assets rise from $10 million to more than $220 million.  Several new benefit programs, including survivor payments, are enacted during this time.

1964 The 88 East Broad Street building is constructed and serves as SERS’ headquarters.

1969 James O. Brennan becomes SERS’ third executive director and serves until 1979.  He implements major benefit improvements at SERS including the annual cost-of-living raise, health care coverage, the death benefit payment, and the Medicare Part B reimbursement. The system has 11,809 retirees and assets of $257 million when Mr. Brennan takes the helm. Under his leadership, assets break the $1 billion threshold.

1979 Thomas R. Anderson becomes SERS’ fourth executive director and serves until 2003.  During Anderson’s tenure, many benefit improvements are enacted, the size of the fund grows from $1 billion to $7.7 billion, and the number of retirees more than doubles. 

1981 The 45 North Fourth Street building is constructed and becomes the System’s headquarters.

1984 Former executive director Thomas G. O’Keefe’s wife, Agnes, successfully lobbies for the addition of a retiree seat on the Board, and then is elected to it.  She serves two terms, from 1984 to 1992.

2001 The 300 East Broad Street building is constructed and becomes the System’s headquarters (current).

2004 James R. Winfree becomes SERS’ fifth executive director and serves until 2010. Establishing and maintaining effective relationships with legislators was a top priority for Winfree. One of his major accomplishments was the 2008 passage of Senate Bill 148 in the Ohio General Assembly, which raised retirement eligibility for new SERS contributors and proactively addressed the demographic changes that threatened the long-term stability of the System.

2004 The Retirement Board is expanded to its current nine-member structure:  a second retiree seat is added, the Attorney General and State Auditor seats are removed, and three appointed investment experts are added – one each appointed by the Governor, State Treasurer, and Ohio General Assembly.

2008 SERS’ leadership continues to build effective partnerships with the executive leadership of advocacy groups that represent the diverse interests of SERS’ membership. These groups are instrumental in providing input into retiree health care decisions and legislative issues that affect SERS’ members and retirees. SERS also begins tracking the direct economic impact of pension and health care payments in all Ohio Senate and House districts, and congressional districts.

2009 SERS’ leadership holds several open meetings with advocacy group representatives to discuss pension reform options and forthcoming health care changes.

2010 Executive Director James R. Winfree retires after six years of service with SERS. Winfree championed the creation of the Health Care Preservation Task Force, supported the long-term stability of SERS through the passage of SB 148 in 2008, and encouraged a culture of respectful, honest, and open communications.

2010 Lisa J. Morris becomes SERS’ sixth executive director.  Morris’ strategic vision includes continued focus on SERS’ Strategic Planning and Change-Ready Culture Initiatives, which she initiated as deputy director, building better relationships with legislators through increased visits, and promoting SERS’ unique demographics to print and broadcast media outlets.

2011 SERS debuts new social media pages on Facebook and Twitter to enhance the System’s existing communications outreach tools.

2012 The system introduces the Summary Annual Financial Report (SAFR), an 8-page document that will be published each fiscal year and summarizes the financial information contained in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

SERS celebrates its 75th anniversary.

2013 SERS receives an updated fiduciary audit, which is complimentary of the system’s investment controls and processes.

A remote counseling program is introduced as another counseling option to our members.

2014 The system participates in a 10-year actuarial audit, as required by the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC).

SERS receives a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) Silver award from the U.S. Green Building Council.

2015 SERS implements an outreach plan to educate employers and the media about the potential effects of Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement No. 68.


SERS is proud of its record as a good steward of its members’ and employers’ contributions. Find out how the pension fund has grown since 1937.

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1937 Member and employer contribution rates are set at 4% on the first $2,000. Accounts earn 4% annual interest, and members pay a $2 annual membership fee. Retirement is set at age 60 with 5 years of service. The benefit is two times the member’s own contributions plus interest, with an extra benefit for service before 1937. Refunds are forced if a member is inactive for 10 years, with an interest rate of 3%.  Retirement is mandatory at age 70.  The annuity tables are gender-based, meaning a woman’s retirement benefit is lower because women lived longer than men. Full (unreduced) retirement benefits are at age 65 or with 40 years of service.

1944  Retirement at age 55 with 30 years of service is added.

1946 The first member contribution rate increase takes place when it rises to 5% of pay.

1951 Survivor benefits are established. 

1955 SERS becomes a defined benefit plan.  The pension formula is established at 1.5% multiplied by the final average salary (FAS, which was the highest five years within the last 10 years with a $15,000 limit), multiplied by years of service. Monthly benefits are increased for working beyond age 65. Minimum benefits are provided for attained age or years of service.  Benefits are limited to 75% of FAS. An optional Defined Contribution Plan is retained as a money purchase formula.

1968 SERS’ pension formula increases to 1.9% of FAS.

1971 SERS’ pension formula increases to 2.0% of FAS.

1974  FAS is changed to the highest three years, and benefits are limited to 90% of FAS.

1976 The “bonus” for working beyond age 65 is eliminated. Retirement eligibility is changed to 30 years of service at any age.

1977 A year of service is redefined from 9 months to 120 working days.

1983 Early retirement incentive plan is established whereby employers may purchase the lesser of 5 years or 1/5 of the total service credited to the participant.

1988 SERS’ pension formula increases to 2.1% of FAS.

1998 SERS’ pension formula increases to 2.1% of FAS for the first 30 years of service; 2.5% of FAS for every year over 30 years.

2001 SERS’ pension formula is changed to 2.2% from 2.1%, with 2.5% for each year over 30. The benefit limit is increased to 100% of FAS.

2002 The partial lump-sum option plan (PLOP) is authorized, and the annual cost-of-living increase is fixed at 3%.

2003 The system increases the member contribution rate to its statutory limit of 10%.

2008 SERS requests and receives legislative approval to adjust the retirement eligibility for all new members of the system. It is the first such change in 50 years, creating a second tier of benefits for all new members on or after May 14, 2008. In addition, the early retirement reduction factors used in those new members’ benefit calculations are actuarially determined, rather than by the fixed rate set in statute for earlier members. These changes are sought to address increasing member longevity and negative impact on the defined benefits structure.

2012 SERS’ pension reform bill, S.B. 341, is signed into law by the governor. The changes to age and service requirements, which address the longer life expectancy of retirees, were effective Jan. 7, 2013 but will be implemented on Aug. 1, 2017.

2015 The system works closely with STRS, OPERS, and the legislature, and Senate Bill 42 goes into effect, ensuring that portability between the systems is preserved.