By 2009, about 500 employees were taking advantage of this unbelievable perk. The district’s annual tab grew as high as $9 million in 2009.
When the program was exposed to the public a few years ago, Buffalo union boss Philip Rumore said he would be glad to drop the perk in the next round of contract negotiations. But Buffalo hasn’t had a new teachers contract since the last one expired in 2004, according to the Atlantic.
That’s because the state of New York allows teachers to keep working under the terms of expired contracts until a new pact is negotiated. While would the Buffalo union want a new contract when the old one pays out so well?
At one point the school board offered to cancel 100 teacher layoffs if the union would drop the cosmetic surgery program for a year, according to The Atlantic. The union declined the offer.
“The urgency of negotiating a new contract really isn’t there,” Amber Dixon, a recent interim superintendent for the district, told The Atlantic. “You get to keep your benefits. You get to keep your cosmetic rider. You get to keep your 2.5 percent step increase. It makes getting back to the table difficult.”
Of course all of this is old news. The taxpayers of Buffalo long ago accepted the fact that they have to fork over hard earned dollars so teachers can get free nips and tucks.
But just out of curiosity, we decided to get an update on the annual cost of this monstrous waste of money. The school district responded politely to our request:
“Pursuant to your FOIL request dated October 15, 2012, the Buffalo public school district spent $2,728,201 on cosmetic procedures for members of the Buffalo Teachers Federation for the period of June 2011-July 2012.”
Hmm. $2.7 million. At least that’s less than the $5.2 million the district shelled out the year before.
“Please feel free to contact (so and so at some number) should you care to discuss the matter any further,” the school district letter continued.
No thanks. We’ve learned all we care to know about this sickening disposal of taxpayer dollars. Just let us know when somebody finds the courage to end this fiasco.
Big travel costs
Given the crazy cost of the cosmetic surgery program, one might expect Buffalo school officials to economize in other ways.
After all, they’re dealing with a budget deficit of roughly $49 million. No such luck.
We found 199 credit card transactions at various hotels around the nation, totaling $80,784. Then we discovered 24 checks written to various hotels, costing another $47,704.
That brings the district’s one-year lodging tab to nearly $130,000, which might be nearly enough to employ two first-year teachers with benefits – if they don’t have plastic surgery performed.
What were some of the more expensive lodging bills?
Let’s see. The district had nine credit card charges for a total of $7,541 at the Hyatt Hotels Regency in Jersey City on July 11, 2011. Sounds like fun. There were eight charges for a total of $4,011 at Hyatt Hotels San Antonio on Feb. 28, 2011.
Five transactions at Residence Inns Downtown Tampa on Feb. 3, 2011 came to $4,975. There were 11 charges totaling $4,163 at Residence Inns Greenbelt (wherever that is) on May 15, 2011. There were nine charges at the Hilton Saratoga Hotel on May 3, 2011 for $2,465.
It appears that checks were the preferred mode of payment for instate lodging. One check for $1,828 was written to the Darien Lake Theme Park Resort on July 8, 2011. Another for $1,560 was written to Marriott Hotel Corporation in Albany on Sept. 2, 2011, while one for $1,428 went to Hampton Inn and Suites in Poughkeepsie on April 15, 2011.
The largest single hotel transaction was for $36,870 at Buffalo’s own Adams Mark Hotel on July 22, 2011.
Of course school officials had to get to their destinations, which meant a lot of flying. We found 181 transactions with various airlines in 2011, costing the district $60,805.
That’s a lot of frequent flier miles. To be fair, the school district appears to have made an effort to fly budget airlines, like Jetblue, on a fairly frequent basis. But there were also plenty of bookings on more expensive airlines like United, Southwest and Delta.
Let’s not forget the limousine costs. District credit cards were used for $669 worth of service from Kings Limo Service, Moon Limo Services, RTC Chauffer Service and VC Limousine Service on various days in 2011. School officials, as mentioned above, failed to respond to our offer to explain these costs. But based on what we’ve heard from other district around the nation, we can almost guess what they would have said:
Some or most of the money spent on travel came from state or federal grants. Some or most of the money was used for professional development trips. Expensive hotels were used because that’s where the conferences were. Some of the money was spent on student travel.
Tax money is tax money, whether it comes from school coffers or the state or federal government. And Buffalo school officials spent a lot of it on questionable transactions in 2011. They may not have offered us an explanation, but we think they owe one to the taxpayers of their city.