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This won't hurt a bit

   Who's not in favor of oral health? Who could argue against a state regulation that could help get some kids get to a dentist, and then get treated?

   New York State is requiring public schools to ask parents to provide them with a certificate of dental health for their children. But parents don't have to provide it, and no child will be turned away from school.

   One of the cases cited in favor of this law is that of a 12-year-old Maryland boy, who died from a brain infection that had spread from an abscess in a tooth root.

   Local dentists have stepped up and will offer free and reduced price dental screenings for one week next month, and they'll sign the certificates after the screening.

   But will the certificate be a piece of paper that gets tucked away in a child's folder, never to be seen again - like the Ark of the Covenant in "Raiders of the Lost Ark?"

  --- Barbara O'Brien

Cheektowaga school districts - is eight more than enough?

   There are parts or all of eight different school districts in Cheektowaga, so it's not surprising the second largest town in Erie County is the poster child for school district consolidation.

   The school districts say they collaborate every day, and save money by working with each other and with Erie 1 BOCES. Working together more is the answer, they say.

   They question whether there would be any savings from consolidating.

   You might save the salaries of several superintendents, but then you'd need more administrators. Employees wouldn't agree to go by the lowest wages, but the contract with the highest paid wages. And would taxpayers from the property-rich Cheektowaga Central approve a consolidation with Cheektowaga Sloan, which has a much lower assessed value, which would result in more taxes for central?

- Barbara O'Brien

The most important meal of the school day

   Maybe they have great food. Maybe kids at John F. Kennedy Middle School don't want to wake up in time to eat breakfast at home, or maybe this is an example of peer pressure gone good.

   Whatever the reason, more than half the school ate breakfast at school Thursday. For 75 cents, they get a bagel, or a "breakfast pizza" of a biscuit, sauce, cheese and breakfast sausage and milk or juice.

   That's 192 children choosing food off carts in the hall, and paying at a cash register on wheels … all in about 15 minutes.

   Instead of being chastised for eating in the halls and classrooms, they are encouraged.

   You might wonder why schools are going to great lengths to feed children in the morning, but teachers know a full stomach makes learning a little bit easier for everyone in the classroom.

  --- Barbara O'Brien

The eye of the beholder in Hamburg

   What do you get when you mix a highway reconstruction project with modern art?

   The Village of Hamburg is about to find out.

   It planned to commission four sculptures to adorn the four new traffic circles that came with the Route 62 reconstruction project.

   It bonded for $130,000 for two sculptures, and went to private donors to raise funds for the others.

   One of the village-bought artworks, "Sail Form," is already up at Main and Center streets. The other is awaiting installation at Buffalo Street and Legion Drive.

    But the private part of the funding hasn't come through for the other two pieces. Donors have failed to pony up the approximately $100,000 or more that would be needed to grace the remaining circles with artworks.

   Leaving the circles empty isn't an option, officials say. Drivers need a visual cue that they're approaching something unusual in the middle of the road.

   So on Thursday the Village Board considered alternative centerpieces for the two roundabouts - more typical municipal accessories like flagpoles, lamp posts and clock towers.

   Are two sculptures not enough? Or too many?

   --- Fred O. Williams

He thinks that he shall never see ...

   Mark Lubera is a one-man forest.

   Thanks to his efforts in Lancaster, it is estimated that the town has 15,000 more trees than it would have had without him.

   In a couple of weeks, we'll start remembering all the trees that were lost when the October Surprise storm hit and the debate will begin anew over whether damaged trees can be saved and whether we were too quick to allow other trees to be removed.

   But rather than curse the damage, Lancaster can celebrate its own Johnny Appleseed.

West Seneca downsizing heads to the courts

   Nothing comes easy here.

   After the Erie County Board of Elections invalidated petitions aimed at reducing the size of the West Seneca Town Board, the man who headed the petition drive saw it as politics as usual.

   "I think politicians' desperation is starting to show here," says Kevin Gaughan, who had hoped that West Seneca would become the poster child for reduced government.

   But Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward says because the petitions deal with such an unusual part of the law, there must be a strict interpretation of the statute. The petitions did not follow the law, and the measure cannot be put before voters this November, he said.

   There are two options available to petition supporters, according to Ward: challenge the issue in court, or solicit signatures on a new petition.

   Gaughan says he's not going to circulate new petitions. So that leaves Western New Yorkers to follow another court challenge.

  -- Barbara O'Brien

Orchard Park debate: To shovel or not to shovel

   Most of us are used to winter's civic obligation, to shovel the walk in front  of our property.

   Shirk the obligation and you risk getting a ticket or, perhaps worse, the disapproval of your neighbors.

   Every shovelful is saving some amount of tax money that would otherwise be necessary for the local government to do the work. (In the Village of Orchard Park, the cost comes to $38 per mile of sidewalk, per snowstorm).

   The civic obligation is a new thing in the Town of Orchard Park, where sidewalks have relatively recently been installed along state highways. The Town Board passed an ordinance earlier this month putting sidewalk maintenance on the shoulders of property owners.

   That's the usual arrangement, but some residents say it just makes more sense, with a low-density population, to make sidewalk plowing a municipal chore. Otherwise, the properties with long frontages … or those that are empty while residents flee south for the winter -- will leave their sidewalks buried under mounds of snow, blocking the way and canceling out the work of others.

   So the question is whether to shovel, or not to shovel -- and pay the town to do it.

  -- Fred O. Williams

SUVs still A-OK in local government

   A lot of local officials drive taxpayer-funded sport utility vehicles. My column today raised the question of whether that is a good practice, whether it would be a nice gesture for a mayor or town supervisor to trade in the old gas guzzler for something a little more economical.

   The officials I spoke with said they had good reasons for driving an SUV.

   Is this an issue that matters to you? Do you care what your elected leaders drive?

  --- Bruce Andriatch

The Clarence plaza war

   Two Transit Road plaza owners are at war with one another over a driveway one owner tried to build to help shoppers access a neighboring traffic light.

   Eastern Transit Plaza owner Ismet Hallac can't finish his partially paved driveway, however, because his neighbor, Valu Home Centers president Michael A. Ervolina Jr. -- refuses to allow it to be connected to his Clarence plaza's parking lot.

   A traffic light at Transit and Renaissance assists customers driving to and from Ervolina's plaza.

   Hallac and his plaza's tenants strongly believe they deserve access to that light, too.

   So does the Town of Clarence, which for two years has been promoting interconnection for adjoining businesses on Transit to promote traffic safety.

   Ervolina says connecting to his neighbor's plaza will adversely affect his market value and rental rates, cause him to lose valuable parking and violate non-compete clauses with his tenants.

   Who's right, in your view, on this public safety issue?

   -- Irene Liguori

Border crossing

   The cooperative efforts between Cheektowaga and Buffalo are a recognition that it makes no sense for a suburb to view the city as some distant land, whose problems and issues are not related to suburban life.

   As Town Councilman Stan Kaznowski told me, there is no "visible boundary" between the two communities. So too are the perception boundaries that have been built up over the years.

   Cheektowaga recognizes that its fortunes are tied to Buffalo's. Will other first-ring suburbs follow suit? What else could be done to deal with the issues that don't care where the city ends and the suburbs begin?

   --- Bruce Andriatch

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