The proposal, technically called a “domestic partner benefit,” would apply to all employees in unmarried relationships, without specifying any sexual orientation. Employers often use the domestic-partner classification to extend employment benefits (including in the city of New Orleans) to same-sex couples in states such as Louisiana where it is illegal for them to marry.
“Over the years, our employees, who are coupled without judicial or legislative recognition of their relational bonds, have not been afforded the opportunity to have healthcare coverage through ISL’s employment option,” said Head of Schools Sean Wilson at Wednesday night’s meeting of the school’s governing board.
Creating the domestic partner benefit has two goals — one philosophical, and one practical, Wilson said. First, it aligns with the school’s mission of embracing diversity. Secondly, it becomes another recruiting tool as the school competes for new faculty members.
Most of the International School’s board members expressed support for the change, but had several questions. Mike Lappa and Andrew Yon both asked Wilson whether the change would come into conflict with state law — which offers little support for same-sex unions — but Wilson pointed out that other schools in the area have already made similar policy changes. For example, Lusher Charter School approved a similar measure extending benefits to same-sex couples in 2013.
Lappa also asked Wilson about the cost of the change. The school’s healthcare coverage currently covers 80 percent of an employee’s premium, but the employee must pay the premium for family members, Wilson replied. Likewise, the employee will still have to pay for the domestic partner’s premiums, but will have the option of getting them insured at the school’s rates.
“It costs us nothing to have this option,” Wilson said.
Board member John Wettermark questioned whether the policy creates the potential for abuse, such as for someone to try to get coverage for a roommate. Wilson replied that the insurance company handles the process for establishing domestic partnership, and it is preferable for the school not to get involved in those details.
Two board members, Chantell Reed and Barbara Griffin, asked that the issue be tabled so they could learn more about it. Board member Brenda Richard-Montgomery said that the school is hiring now, however, and needs to be able to say whether it will offer the benefit or not.
The board considered briefly whether their vote was even needed, or merely “symbolic,” but Wettermark said that symbolic or not, the vote would send a positive message. The board then voted 7-0 in favor of the policy change with Reed and Griffin abstaining.
New Head of Schools
The marquee issue of the evening, the selection of Camp Street principal Melanie Tennyson as the new Head of School after Wilson leaves this summer to lead another charter school, passed with relatively little discussion. Promoting Tennyson has long been the board’s “contingency plan” for Wilson’s eventual departure, and over the past month, the board’s Head of School search committee quickly came to the consensus of offering Tennyson a three-year contract, board chair Matt Amoss said Wednesday.
Amoss reiterated his praise for Wilson’s tenure as Head of School and his confidence that Tennyson is the right person to carry that work forward, and the board entered a 30-minute executive session to discuss offering her the contract. When they returned, they voted to enter negotiations with Tennyson — with little further comment other than applause from the audience.
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Wednesday’s wide-ranging meeting also included criticism from an incoming Parent-Teacher Organization officer about the lack of diversity on the school’s governing board. Amoss and Yon’s terms on the board will end in August, and one position is currently opening, so board members invited her to participate in the nominating process.
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.