BUFFALO, N.Y. – It’s like a blatant slap in the face to taxpayers.
For years the Buffalo school district has been a target for criticism over its free plastic surgery program for school employees, which is written into the teacher union’s collective bargaining agreement.
Last year EAGnews checked in on the situation and found the district spent an amazing $2.7 million on nose jobs, face lifts, tummy tucks and similar procedures. We published a story about this outrage and a local television station followed up with a news report.
You would think the negative publicity would be enough the shame the district into doing something about this colossal waste of education dollars.
But that’s not the case.
Spending for cosmetic surgery actually increased the following year, topping $2.9 million between June 2012 and May 2013. It’s almost as if school administrators and teachers union officials laugh at the public criticism and spend what they want, when they want, just because they can.
If taxpayers don’t like it, oh well.
EAGnews also did an updated check on other Buffalo school spending in the 2012-13 academic year, to see if a district struggling with a deficit of approximately $50 million, more than 40 academically struggling schools and a graduation rate of less than 50 percent, had made any type of serious effort to save a few dollars.
The information we found didn’t provide much hope.
In 2011-12, the district spent nearly $130,000 on various hotels around the nation. In 2012-13 that total jumped to $140,963.
Airline and other travel costs came to $48,198, entertainment came to a whopping $384,148, legal costs totaled $485,902 and drug and rehabilitation services – for who, we don’t know – cost taxpayers $67,900.
We wish we could offer explanations for these expenses, but Buffalo school officials declined an invitation to discuss our findings in detail with the news crew at WGRZ-TV in Buffalo, which aired three separate reports Wednesday based on our investigation.
Note that these expenses are just a sampling of what the district spent on various items and services in 2012-13. Total expenditures came to just over $965 million.
Ironically, a big chunk of the school district’s huge hotel tab was spent near home, in various locations around the state of New York.
There were a total of 248 charges or checks for hotel service, totaling $140,963.
One popular destination was the Albany Marriott, where someone from the district wrote a total of 35 checks for a combined $12,156 between July 27, 2012 and June 21, 2013.
There were pricey stays with “Hyatt Hotels Buffalo” of $1,419 on Sept. 1, 2012, $1,702 on Sept. 19, 2012 and $1,884 on June 9, 2013.
There were three transactions at the Darien Lake Theme Park Resort – on June 21 and June 28, 2013 – for a total of $3,464.
There was a whopping charge of $21,437 at a Holiday Inn in Albany on March 22, 2013. There were a pair of charges, totaling $5,742, at the sample place on April 19 and May 3, 2013.
The district had a charge of $4,840 at the Hotel Albany on Jan. 11, 2013 and a big tab of $9,994 at the Hyatt Regency in Buffalo on Sept. 14, 2012.
There were also three charges, totaling $3,450, at the Courtyard Boston Cambridge, on June 7, 2013.
District personnel also enjoyed out-of-state destinations, including Orlando, San Diego, Washington, D.C., St. Petersburg, Fla., Memphis, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Long Beach, Calif., and Atlanta.
Most of the $48,198 travel tab was spent on 147 transactions with different airlines. The district also spent $1,549 on travel agents. As one local television anchor wondered, haven’t they ever heard of Travelocity?
The district’s restaurant tab – $14,632 – was fairly mild compared to some other school districts around the nation, but it was still big enough to invite some scrutiny.
Among the more popular eateries on the credit card list were Chris’ New York Sandwich Shop (25 charges totaling $4,686) and Chick-N-Pizza Works (six charges totaling $2,248).
The district’s entertainment expenditures were limited to four venues, all of which could be said to have educational value. But some of the costs are difficult to fathom – $86,620 at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, $64,872 at the Zoological Society of Buffalo and $23,152 at the Buffalo Museum of Science. There was a smaller charge of $504 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
We were slightly baffled by the 58 checks written to two different vendors for drug and alcohol treatment, totaling $67,900. All but two of the checks were written to Alcohol & Drug Dependency Services Inc. The two biggest checks – for $10,000 apiece – were written to an entity referred to as “WNY United Against Drug and Alcohol.”
The public deserves an explanation.
We realize that public schools, like all branches of American government, have become highly dependent on attorneys on a daily basis. But we found the Buffalo district’s $485,902 legal tab a bit much. People don’t pay education taxes so their dollars can line the pockets of already wealthy lawyers.
Has the Buffalo school administration become so comfortable having attorneys around that it sometimes passes work off to them that could be covered by district staff, resulting in unnecessary fees? That would be an excellent question for an enterprising local reporter to investigate and answer.
Ashleigh Costello contributed to this report