Buffalo, N.Y. Teachers Spend $9M in Taxpayer Cash in '09 on Cosmetic Surgery

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo teachers left taxpayers on the hook for nearly $9 million worth of cosmetic surgery last year, according to the state-appointed authority overseeing public school finances.

The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority found that last year's costs for elective procedures such as chemical peels and other skin treatments were up $8 million over 2004's $1 million tab for cosmetic surgery.

The procedures, provided under the teachers' union contract, accounted for 9 percent of the district's total spending on health benefits for employees and retirees, The Buffalo News reported Thursday.

About 10,000 school employees are eligible for the benefit. District officials said teachers or their dependents accounted for 90 percent of the approximately 500 people who received cosmetic surgery last year.

Barbara J. Smith, the district's chief financial officer, said those 500 people represent less than 2 percent of those covered by health insurance through the district -- a figure she estimated works out to an average of nearly $18,000 in elective procedures last year per employee who used the benefit.

The president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation said the union has agreed to give up the benefit in the next contract and said teachers may be simply rushing to use the benefit while they can.

"We've already told them we're going to give [it] up in these negotiations," Philip Rumore, president of the teacher union, told the newspaper. "We've told everybody it's going to be gone in the next contract."

Board of Education member Christopher Jacobs said the cost increase "smacks of abuse" and is asking the district and the city comptroller to investigate.

Smith told the newspaper that the issue of the rider came up during the district's budget talks last spring.

"We asked the unions to forgo the cosmetic surgery rider for one year, so we could use the money to reduce the number of layoffs," she told the newspaper. "They weren't interested."

Rumore said the benefit is a negotiated item -- one that his union is willing to give up only as part of contract negotiations, which he expects to begin by the end of the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.