Nearly $3 million has been paid out to cover cosmetic rather than medically necessary procedures for Buffalo school district employees, according to a report released by a conservative non-profit. The Education Action Group says that thanks to a cosmetic rider to the medical insurance policy, employees were able to get these procedures done at no cost to them.
If the figures – which cover the period between June 2011 and July 2012 – are correct, the high number will have represented a substantial decline in the amount spent on cosmetic procedures in the previous years. At its highest, in 2009, the district paid out close to $9 million for such procedures before dropping sharply – to $5.9 million – in 2010.
EAG filed a request for the numbers using the Freedom of Information Law which allows public access to most data about the inner workings of publicly-funded entities – including the Buffalo, New York school district. Announcing the release, EAG founder Kyle Olson acknowledged the dramatic drop in spending, but reiterated that last year's number was still too high. He says that the fact that Buffalo spends millions of dollars on procedures without real medical benefit is an indication that its "priorities are out of whack."
He called on the union to give up the cosmetic coverage.
Reached by phone, BTF President Phil Rumore told 2 On Your Side this is "old news" and that the rider will not be included in a new contract; however, the union and district have been without a contract for nearly a decade.
"We're more than willing to part with this," Rumore said.
Olson pointed out that a move by the union to voluntarily give up the rider would be a good faith effort on their part. Doing so would prove that it is the welfare of their students that is the priority for teachers and other instructional workers in Buffalo, rather than their own paychecks and benefits. In Olson's opinion, giving up such frivolous provision shouldn't wait until the new contract is finalized.
Yet, according to WGRZ, giving up the rider would put the union at the disadvantage when negotiating with the district going forward. According to union sources, their members are among the lowest-paid both in the region and the state, and need to keep the rider in order to trade it in for a better financial arrangement in the future.
EAG also examined the district's spending on travel and found it spent $164,764.35, mostly on hotels and airfare. However, Olson was critical of expenses listed as limousine and chauffeur services.