The cultural and educational controversy exploded when Pflugerville Independent School District voted on Dec. 14th to become the 1st district in Texas to create a completely new status for district employees called a "domestic partnership" status. Employees claiming that status have full benefits under the School Districts insurance package that started this week. Community, legal, media and moral controversy has not only abated but is growing.
Originally, Superintendent Charles Dupree approved a recommendation from the "Pflugerville Employee Insurance Committee", which is made up from employees of the district. Information on the Committee seems a bit cloudy as depending on what news article you read, the name changes. There appears to be very little real information on who and what the committee actually is and how the membership process works. The lack of information on that entity, the aggressive support from the Pflugerville Education Association teachers union, the small felt need among employees in ratio to total numbers, the original lack of information provided to parents and voters, AND the apparent contradicting statements by Superintendent Dupre have caused many to question if the policy is more about pushing an agenda than meeting a legitimate need.
On October 17th, Superintendent Dupre wrote on the PISD blog -"I must be honest with you – I was unprepared for some of the reactions we have received, both positive and negative. In hindsight, I was somewhat naïve, but I never imagined this decision would elicit such a response." However, in an interview with the Austin American Statesman, Dupre said-“It’s a strong statement of anti-discrimination, we’re going to advocate for equity and social justice and set expectations for valuing our employees. We went into this knowing with our eyes open that there’d be people who weren’t supportive of the idea, but we’d been having hard discussions about social justice. So is this policy decision about "advocating" a political and philosophical position? Is it the proper role of an elected School Board to "advocate" a political definition of "social justice"?
There is also a huge ongoing legal and Constitutional question. Jonathan Saenz , President of Texas Values, a Conservative non profit "Faith, Family & Freedom" organization has filed a formal request for a legal opinion from the Texas Attorney General on the PISD policy. Texas Values believes that the district’s policy violates the Texas Constitution. Voters in 2005 passed an amendment to the state Constitution that limits marriage to the union of one man and one woman and prohibits “this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” The Texas attorney general is considering this request for an official opinion on whether the Pflugerville school district’s policy on benefits for domestic partners violates that part of the Constitution. The "Texas Definition of Marriage Act" passed with 75% of Texans voting for it in 2005, amending the Texas Constitution.
This issue certainly transcends Pflugerville, Texas but with the 2013 Legislative Session only days old and with State Senator Dan Patrick now the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, the tension between the powerful teachers unions and their influence over local school districts and the grassroots advocates for more parental choice and authority is only going to increase. Education is on the mind of everyone in Austin these days and policies like the new PISD one that seeks to promote controversial definitions of terms and broad policies with more political posturing than objective data are certainly going to come under more well deserved scrutiny than less especially when many Districts are clamoring for more tax dollars including Pflugerville. A new factor is the 2nd look taxpayers are taking at the dollars spent in Administration compared to dollars spent in the classroom and on teachers. The State average for a Superintendent salary is about $200,000.annually with Mr. Dupre bringing 181,000 plus benefits. You can see how much YOUR Superintendent makes here.