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National embarrassment; Media spotlight emphasizes the need to end free cosmetic surgery for teachers

How embarrassing?

It is one thing for right-minded Western New Yorkers to rail against a particularly odious perk provided to Buffalo teachers, but it's quite another thing when the national media get hold of the story.

There it was, CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" news show featuring "Teachers nip, tuck for free." Gary Tuchman did a credible job in his 4 1/2 -minute piece describing what we already know: that a contract rider provides free cosmetic surgery for teachers. That follows Atlantic magazine's story a month ago, titled: "Why Does Buffalo Pay for Its Teachers to Have Plastic Surgery?"

Why, indeed, does the generous "nip and tuck" perk continue to make headlines? It ought to be surgically removed immediately. But that won't happen, thanks to Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore. He says the union is willing to give up the benefit -- but that will happen only as part of contract negotiations, if the School Board is willing to give up something in return.

Really?

Buffalo is a poor city, among the poorest of its size in the nation. Hundreds of teachers have been laid off throughout the years and many more jobs are in peril during tough economic times. Yet teachers continue to enjoy the benefit of being able to get face-lifts, nose jobs and breast augmentation at taxpayer expense. There isn't even a $10 co-pay for the service, and anyone covered by the teachers' health insurance is eligible also.

The cosmetic surgery rider cost taxpayers almost $9 million in one recent year and last year cost $5.9 million. The cost varies from year to year, because the district pays out of pocket for every single procedure, rather than paying a set premium to an insurance company.

Buffalo is facing a nearly $43 million budget gap for the 2012-13 school year. The millions spent on cosmetic surgery could be better spent preserving programs and jobs. Rumore should do what is really best for his membership and give up the cosmetic surgery rider.

The benefit is used by only about 500 people a year, less than 2 percent of those eligible. But now millions of people across America have the impression that Buffalo cares more about providing Botox for teachers than it does about educating schoolchildren.

It's too bad Anderson Cooper isn't a Buffalo teacher; he could have that furrowed brow smoothed out for free, thanks to taxpayers.