In the mid-1990s, DISD was the first district in the state to pass a nondiscrimination policy that included sexual orientation. And as recently as 2010, DISD was the first in the state to enact a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
So, after it was widely reported earlier this week that Pflugerville ISD had become the first in the state to offer domestic partner benefits to employees, I reached out to spokesman Jon Dahlander to find out why DISD isn’t doing this. Dahlander explained that DISD can’t offer DP benefits because its health insurance is through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas’ ActiveCare program.
“Because TRS ActiveCare does not recognize same-sex couples, we cannot offer that benefit. They do recognize common law marriage for benefits, however,” Dahlander said.
“The Teacher Retirement System of Texas administers the TRS-ActiveCare benefits program for Dallas ISD. TRS-ActiveCare covers an employee’s spouse, including a common law spouse,” Dahlander added. “The program does not cover domestic partners, therefore the district cannot offer that benefit. We’ve had TRS-ActiveCare for probably eight years or so now, as do many school districts in Texas, in large part to give employees access to lower rates because of the sheer numbers involved.”
As it turns out, about 90 percent of districts in Texas use TRS-ActiveCare, according to its website, which could help explain why Pflugerville ISD was the first in the state to offer DP benefits.
Pflugerville ISD spokeswoman Amanda Brim said the district switched from TRS-ActiveCare to a self-funded insurance plan a few years ago to save money, and now contracts with Humana.
“For us, we felt like we could provide better insurance benefits and have more control over those by becoming self-funded, and that it was better financially for the district,” Brim said.
As for the decision to offer DP benefits, Brim added: “It was never a political statement about providing insurance for same-sex couples; it was about this is a way to offer insurance benefits to the broadest range of our staff members and their families as possible. We see it as a business decision that can help attract and keep the high-quality employees that we have.”
Howard Goldman, a spokesman for the Teacher Retirement System, said he would look into whether it would be possible for a district that uses the program to offer DP benefits. But he said he believes Dahlander’s statements are accurate.
“It may be that state law has bearing on it, I’m not sure,” Goldman said. “I think that’s correct, that the definition is such that it would not include domestic partners.”