Pflugerville ISD to reopen domestic partners insurance debate

Members of the Pflugerville ISD board of trustees have elected to reopen the debate over the district's controversial decision to allow same-sex domestic partner insurance coverage for employees.

The issue drew statewide and national attention in October when it became public that the district employees' insurance commission had recommended the change to the insurance coverage plans, and PISD Superintendent Charles Dupre had signed off on the decision. At the board's Nov. 16 meeting, trustees proposed to reintroduce the issue as an agenda and action item at its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 13.

"I want to have our board revisit the insurance issue," PISD trustee Jimmy Don Havins said. "I want the board to have an up or down vote. The motion I will make is to revert to the coverage we previously had."

At the Nov. 16 meeting, several of the board members stated they were unaware of what they were approving when they voted Aug. 16 to allow the insurance coverage change as part of the district's overall budget plan. The board has traditionally followed the recommendations put forth by the district's administration relating to employee insurance plans.

"I think it's a matter of style choice in leadership," PISD trustee Rob Reyes said regarding the board's trust in administration reccomendations. "We have the right to vote things up or down, but we have yielded that."

At the board's Oct. 18 meeting, more than 150 people showed up to voice their support or opposition to the proposed change.

"I must be honest with you—I was unprepared for some of the reactions we have received, both positive and negative," Dupre wrote on his district blog Oct. 17. "In hindsight, I was somewhat naive, but I never imagined this decision would elicit such a response. From my perspective, it was simply a change to our benefits plan that recognized our ongoing dialogue about equity and social justice, and our dedication to valuing every member of the PISD family."

It is unclear what effect a board decision to rescind the coverage would have on district employees who have already signed on for the added benefits. Open enrollment for the new plan has already ended, and the new plans are set to go into effect Jan. 1, said August Plock, Pflugerville Educators Association president.

The PEA—PISD's teacher's union—is supportive of the change in coverage for district employees, Plock said.

"It's a benefit that affects employees in the district, but its not a large percentage of employees," Plock said. "They've turned this into an issue of supporting gay marriage. What they're failing to remember is that domestic partnership in Texas could include common-law marriage—it could include a man and a woman, too.

"There has been pressure from the religious community in Pflugerville pushing back against it. Their issue is that they think somehow this supports gay marriage. It has nothing to do with gay marriage at all—it has to do with health insurance. We are blurring the lines here."