L.A. Board Considers Insurance for Unmarried Partners

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The Los Angeles Unified School District may join the handful of other school systems that provide health-insurance benefits for the unmarried domestic partners of their employees.

But a vote on adopting such benefits in the nation's second-largest district was postponed last month after school board members decided they needed more information on the package before making a final decision. The board plans to consider the proposal later this month.

Though exact numbers are not available, a few school districts, including those in New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco, have adopted similar provisions. San Francisco enacted its policy in 1991, according to the health-services department of the 67,000-student district.

Howard Thames, the director of personnel for the New York City schools, said the 1.1 million-student district adopted its policy in 1993, when such benefits took effect for all city workers.

Jeff Horton, the president of the Los Angeles school board, said the coverage for domestic partners is part of a host of changes proposed last fall by a health-benefits committee that is made up of representatives of each of the unions that represent employees of the 649,000-student district.

The postponement of a decision on the domestic-partners provision delayed implementation of the entire package of benefits changes, which had originally been scheduled to take effect for the district's 80,000 employees on Jan. 1.

Bill Callahan, the chairman of the Los Angeles benefits committee and a staff member with the Sacramento-based California Federation of Teachers, said the group had been discussing the proposed benefit changes for more than a year.

Cost Scrutinized

But school board members decided at a Dec. 9 meeting that the proposed changes and their cost required more discussion.

The plan is expected to cost the school district an extra $3.7 million each year to provide live-in partners with health, dental, and vision coverage. The district currently budgets $370.8 million a year for insuring employees and retirees.

The extra costs have board members concerned, said Mr. Horton, especially in light of the chronic money woes in the district, which has an annual budget of about $4.2 billion.

About 1 percent of employees would take part, which would bring about 800 partners under the district's benefits plan, Mr. Callahan said.

Mr. Horton, who favors the changes, said the issue was a "matter of basic fairness" that was pushed by the employees' unions.

"Los Angeles city and county have had such measures in effect for a while," Mr. Horton said. "The decision is long overdue."

Mr. Horton, who is homosexual, has been the target of vocal personal attacks from groups opposed to the measure.

A Gay Agenda?

"He's trying to push a gay agenda in the schools," Peter Ford, the conservative host of a local radio talk show, said in a recent interview. "I don't believe that he isn't behind it."

Mr. Horton emphasized that the proposed changes come from the health and welfare committee, and said he supports them in spite of the animosity leveled at him.

"The people that have come to some of the meetings have been pretty nasty," Mr. Horton said. "But it's been fairly minimal."

Michael Casserly, the executive director for the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based organization of large urban school districts, said that while the proposed Los Angeles policy might suggest a trend, that doesn't mean there will be a wave of similar provisions in other cities.

"I'd be surprised if the majority of urban districts adopted [domestic-partners provisions] within the next few years," he said.

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