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Buffalo teachers' rider for cosmetic surgery featured on CNN show

Buffalo teachers' cosmetic surgery rider made national headlines again this week when CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" show featured a piece, "Teachers nip, tuck for free."

In the introduction to reporter Gary Tuchman's 4 1/2 -minute story, Cooper refers to the "free plastic surgery on the taxpayers' dime."

"Here's what's really incredible: Everyone, including the teachers union, agrees the policy should be done away with," Cooper says. "The strange policy has been in place for nearly 40 years in Buffalo, New York.

"The teachers have a rider in their contract that lets them get face-lifts, nose jobs, even breast augmentations. And when teachers go under the knife, it's taxpayers who are footing the bill."

The CNN story comes about a month after the Atlantic magazine ran a piece, "Why Does Buffalo Pay for Its Teachers to Have Plastic Surgery?"

The tone of the Atlantic piece parallels that of on-air comments from Cooper and Tuchman: somewhat incredulous.

Jordan Weissmann, an associate editor at the Atlantic, wrote: "In Buffalo, New York, the heart of the American Rust Belt, the public school system pays for its teachers to get plastic surgery. Hair removal. Microdermabrasian. Liposuction. If you can name the procedure, it's probably covered. No, I am not exaggerating."

Both pieces in the national media come about a year and a half after The Buffalo News ran several stories about the cosmetic surgery rider, reporting that the benefit cost taxpayers almost $9 million in one recent year. Last year, it cost $5.9 million.

The cost fluctuates from year to year because the district pays out of pocket for every procedure, rather than paying a set premium to an insurance company.

The benefit is used by about 500 people a year -- less than 2 percent of those who are eligible for it.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore told Tuchman the same thing he told The News in 2010 -- that the union has agreed to get rid of the benefit, but only as part of contract negotiations.

Buffalo teachers are working under the terms of a contract that expired in 2004. The district and the union held some negotiations in 2011, but the two sides are not close to reaching an agreement.

Tuchman also interviewed plastic surgeon Kulwant Bhangoo, who gets the lion's share of business from Buffalo teachers; School Board President Lou Petrucci; teacher Valerie Akauola, who had surgery after losing 150 pounds; and second-grade teacher Linda Tokarz, who says she gets regular treatments of some sort.