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Saving face(s): Cosmetic surgery costs for school employees skyrocket

Bryce Link, a senior analyst with Buffalo's control board, recently was perusing an old news story. "The Public Cost of Vanity," written five years ago by Buffalo News reporters Sue Schulman and Lou Michel, detailed the then-recent upswing in cosmetic surgery costs for public employees in Erie and Niagara counties.

They quoted Dr. Jeffrey Meilman, a local plastic surgeon, who said: "When I go to national meetings of plastic surgeons, they can't believe there's a cosmetic insurance rider here. The Buffalo area remains an anomaly because it has the rider. The vast majority of other areas never had it."

The story got Link thinking -- so he started pulling together more recent numbers. "I was trying to get to what the costs were and how they've grown," he said. "I've seen the numbers increase."  Dr. Kulwant Bhangoo

In 2004, Buffalo Public Schools employees' and their family members' cosmetic surgery procedures cost taxpayers $922,621. Five years later, three separate doctors were each billing the district more than that. One of them, Dr. Kulwant Bhangoo (pictured at right), billed the district $4.3 million for procedures last year.

Board of Education member Chris Jacobs caught wind of Link's analysis and made it his mission to get word out about the huge increase in cosmetic surgery costs. Jacobs says the steep increase in costs over so short a time warrants an investigation. If there's wrongdoing, he says, the authorities should be called in.

"It smacks of abuse," Jacobs said. "We can't afford this."

Phil Rumore, president of the teachers union, says he's not exactly sure what accounts for the dramatic increase. But he says he's ready to give up the cosmetic surgery rider in contract talks. He notes that the teachers haven't had a contract since 2004 -- and says it doesn't make much sense for Jacobs to be blaming employees for using benefits the union is willing to negotiate away.

"The only reason it's still there is because the board hasn't agreed to a new contract with us," Rumore said. "If anybody is responsible for there still being a cosmetic surgery rider, the board is."

- Mary Pasciak


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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | djgee@buffnews.com


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | tlankes@buffnews.com


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | stan@buffnews.com


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | dswilliams@buffnews.com

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