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America loves that dirty Canadian oil

   WASHINGTON -- Our biggest oil supplier is just across the border.

   Yes, Canada -- home of the world's second-largest reserve of oil -- now sends American more oil than Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf nations combined.

   And it is likely to be sending more and more oil our way, possibly through two new pipelines through the Buffalo area.

   The trouble is, if oil is dirty, a lot of the Canadian oil is dirtier than most. The oil from Alberta's Athabasca Oil Sands is as thick as peanut butter, and much more laden with carbon than light sweet crude.

   That means the Canadian oil us a bigger contributor to global warming than traditional oil is, although the environmentalists and the oil men disagree, predictably, on just how much worse it is.

   Aides to Barack Obama indicate that he's worried, too, that Canadian oil might not be worth the environmental price.

   But that poses a difficult question. Which is worse … relying on dirty oil from Canada or comparatively clean oil from places like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela?

   -- Jerry Zremski

McKinley High -- the controversy that just won't go away

    After months of rapid-fire developments and controversy, the McKinley High School controversy seemed to be dying down. An investigator filed a wide-ranging report that was critical of the handling of Jayvonna Kincannon's suspension. Jayvonna graduated with her class, and shook hands with Principal Crystal Barton at she received her diploma. A deeply divided Board of Education fell one vote short of pursuing disciplinary charges against
Barton.

   Now, McKinley is back in the news … at Barton's initiative. She claims she has received derogatory e-mails, harassing phone calls and anonymous death threats, and that they were prompted by the "notorious and malicious" actions of board members.

   She places most of the blame on West District Board Member Ralph R. Hernandez, and is formally asking state Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills to remove him from the board. But Barton also criticizes Board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak, board members Catherine Nugent Panepinto and Christopher L. Jacobs and Robert M. Bennett, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents.

   The board's attorney says board members acted within their rights as elected officials and citizens with First Amendment rights, and that Barton's petition is faulty in several respects.

   Hernandez says Barton should concentrate not on finding fault, but on her job at McKinley and on her role as president of the district's principals' union. "I am totally disgusted with Mrs. Barton's arrogant and vindictive personality," he said.

   -- Peter Simon

Is it time to become less gas miserly?

   At Bob Mason's Service on Grover Cleveland Highway in Amherst, gas was selling for $3.93 a gallon on Wednesday.

   It was $3.93 at Hi-Quality Petroleum on South Transit Road in South Lockport. At BJ's on Young Street in the Town of Tonawanda, it was $3.94.

   Are the days of $4 gas over?

   Many are breathing a sigh of relief as gas prices have fallen about 20 cents since last month.

   But does that also mean motorists will revert to their old gas-guzzling ways?

   Will your SUV emerge from the garage? Will you stop taking public transportation? Will your bike get mothballed?

   Or will you be sticking with a new fuel efficient, conservation-minded lifestyle?

   Tell us about how the fall in gas prices will or won't affect you.

    -- Maki Becker

Unsettled with the Bills in uncharted territory

  TORONTO -- As an almost lifelong Buffalonian whose family has had season tickets since the Bills began in 1960, I've had the strangest feeling watching Toronto prepare for the Bills in Toronto experiment.

   The Bills have played exhibition games here before. This is different, though. This is the start of eight games in five years, including five regular-season games.

   The Bills will be at home for all those games, but not in War Memorial Stadium, Rich Stadium or Ralph Wilson Stadium. They'll be wearing the home jerseys in Rogers Centre, the old Skydome.

   Heck, you need a passport to see the Buffalo Bills play a home game.

   Is nothing sacred?

   Maybe this will be the savior for the Bills franchise, expanding the team's "brand" and pumping more revenue into the team. Who knows?

   But it sure seems weird.

-- Gene Warner

Schools cope with the high cost of busing student

   High fuel prices have hit families, truck drivers and airlines hard over the past year, and school districts are not exempt from the financial pain.

   Districts have to buy a lot of diesel fuel to fill the tanks of the yellow buses that carry millions of children and teenagers to and from school each day in this country.

   And the cost has risen sharply since the start of last school year.

   In response, local districts are cutting back on field trips, reducing the number of late buses that take home athletes and participants in after-school activities and using technology to make more efficient use of their bus fleets.

   Each of these cost-saving steps, however, potentially puts more of the responsibility for transportation on students and their parents.

   Do you think districts are right to take whatever steps they can to cut costs as they try to rein in their transportation budgets? Is there more they can or should be doing to lower their fuel consumption?

   Or does this put too much of a burden on families at a time when they, too, are dealing with the rising cost of fuel and groceries?

Call it the year without a summer

   All winter, Buffalonians live for the summer. Our summers may be short but they're usually spectacular.

   America's Fair.

   Shakespeare in the Park.

   A Sunday at the beach.

   Maybe even a week's vacation to paint the house.

   But come Saturday each week, it seems the skies have been opening up, pouring rain on our parade.

   Tell us your tale of wet woe in this soggy summer of 2008.

Local lawyers feel betrayed by Edwards

   WASHINGTON -- Back in 2006, John Edwards was simultaneously raising money from Buffalo's best trial lawyers, traveling the country to raise awareness about poverty, and spending $114,461 on a campaign videographer who did double-duty as his mistress.

   Now one might indeed see some hypocrisy in this anti-poverty crusader spending six figures on the central figure (double-entendre embedded here) behind a video company with the too-cool-to-be-forgotten name of "Midline Groove Productions." But you have to wonder about those Buffalo lawyers, too.

   They gave Edwards $230,000 for his 2004 presidential race, $62,250 for the committee that paid videographer Rielle Hunter for her campaign "webisodes," and another $75,525 for his 2008 campaign.

   To hear them tell it, they were thrilled to see a trial lawyer like Edwards, with his working-class sensibility, campaigning for the presidency.

   But now, in wake of it all, you have to ask: what were they thinking?

  -- Jerry Zremski

Does system let educators retire too young?

   Retired educators are not supposed to be able to earn more than $30,000 annually from the public sector and still collect a full pension if they are younger than 65.

   Yet Pioneer Superintendent David F. Kurzawa has consistently done that since retiring in 2003 at age 56.

   He's worked as interim superintendent in the Silver Creek, Frontier and Southwestern school districts, earning as much as $90,000 a year.

   The whole time, he also collected his $87,175 pension.

    So have dozens of others in Western New York, and across New York State, who received waivers from the state Department of Education to work and continue collecting their full pensions.

    Supporters say interim superintendents are needed to fill a leadership void in our schools.

   But critics say the system is being abused, and the double dipping is indicative of a larger problem: Educators are allowed to retire too young.

   Most teachers and administrators can retire at a full pension at 55 … creating more vacancies than there are people to fill them, and also creating a cadre of retirees who aren't ready to stop working.

  -- Susan Schulman

Windfall at the pump for counties: Is it fair?

   Politicians in Albany were accused of pandering and being clueless about the workings of the gasoline distribution system two years ago, when  they capped the state sales tax on a gallon of gasoline at 8 cents.

   With rising pump prices has come less driving. Not surprisingly, less driving means lower sales-tax revenue for the state. And that has been true so far this year, with tax receipts on gas  off 11 percent.

   Not so quick, though. The counties -- with only a few exceptions -- said no thanks to joining the state cap in 2006.

   As a result, they are seeing their tax receipts rise -- or soar in some cases -- as the price of fuel rose through the year. Or, another way to put it, drivers are paying more at the pump because of the way counties set sales taxes on gas purchases.

   Is it fair?

   Critics, like trucking groups, whose members have seen diesel prices go above $5 a gallon, are especially unhappy. And fiscal conservatives say the counties are enjoying an unfair windfall.

   But counties say any criticism is unfair. Their fuel prices are up. Their costs are up. And their mandates from Albany are up. So, the higher gas revenue is just helping pay for those higher costs. Besides, they say, their revenue choices are few, and motorists paying a bit more at the pump is better than hitting property taxpayers for more money.

--Tom Precious

Larded pensions are a taxing proposition

        At most jobs, sick time is something you take when you're sick.

        Maybe you can roll over a few years worth in case you have a major illness.

        But generally, it's use it or lose it.

        The same goes for vacation time.

        Not in the public schools, where unused sick days and vacation time become a golden parachute for some educators.

        Many teachers and administrators cash in hundreds of days in unused time upon retirement, amounting in some cases to tens -- sometimes hundreds -- of thousands of dollars.

        And the most veteran among them get to use the benefit to bulk up their pensions.

       That's how North Tonawanda Superintendent John George ended up with a $205,809 pension that's bigger than the paycheck he earned while working.

       And how Carmen Granto, the longtime Niagara Falls superintendent, is expected to end up with a pension bigger than his $131,000 annual salary when he retires in June.

       It's not just superintendents benefiting from the perk.

    Teachers as well as administrators in the the Buffalo schools pump up their pensions this way, as do teachers in the Depew School District.

   It's a great way to finance a comfortable retirement but, critics point out, it comes at a price to taxpayers.

-- Mary Pasciak

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