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The pros and cons of early high school graduation

   Two students plan to graduate from Buffalo's Burgard High School in just three years, giving them an early start on their college studies and career plans.

   City school officials view that development as a positive not only for the students --  Kiara Taggart and Michael Conrath -- but for Burgard as well.

   They say it reflects an expanded menu of course offerings there, an increase in instructional time, the elimination of study halls, the growth of extracurricular activities and higher expectations for students.

   But while educators applaud the drive and determination of students like Kiara and Michael, they say careful thought should be given to the broader issue of early high school graduations.

   Are individuals students mature enough to handle the demands of college or work a year earlier than normal? Are they better off staying in high school a fourth year to tackle extra courses and opportunities for career exploration? Is it worth missing out on senior prom, class trips and sharing graduation day with classmates?

   When the issue arises in some of the area's larger suburban high schools, the advice from educators is often to stay for the fourth year.

   Both Kiara and Michael are eager to graduate early, and Burgard Principal Florence Krieter said they are in a position to succeed.

   "In the case of these two young people, we believe they're ready to go to college," she said. "They're prepared."

   What are your thoughts about early high school graduation?

   -- Peter Simon

Should top cops be allowed to gild their pensions?

   Should the top cop be able to pad his pension with overtime and similar benefits? Of is a six-figure salary enough compensation for all the work that goes into being a police chief?

   While most police chiefs in the Buffalo area don't get OT-type benefits, there are exceptions.

    A retired Hamburg police chief got about $11,000 in overtime during his final year with the force.

   And two retired Town of Tonawanda chiefs got about $10,000 each in their final year by working extra days, although at straight time, not overtime pay, according to retired chief Samuel Palmiere.

    Aside from the higher salary, the extra money offered to chiefs at the end of their careers allows them to bump up their pensions in the same way rank-and-file officers sometimes
do.

   What do you think? Extra pay for the top cops or no extra pay?

     -- Susan Schulman

   

Moments to remember in the Aud

   Ask anybody in Buffalo about the Aud, and they're going to tell you stories.

   About the time they saw a spectacular Sabres goal. Or brushed against Michael Jordan in a dank hallway deep in the bowels of the building. Or heard Elvis perform live.

   No doubt about it: the Aud equals stories, and we've all got them.

   That's why it's a part of our collective past as a city … as sports historian Rob Ruck points out in the column I wrote for today's City and Region section … and why we should think about saving certain historic parts of it.

   In my column, I argue that we should save center ice. Let's do what Monteal did: keep that small plot of land preserved, with maybe a few original seats around it, so that people in the future can visit the spot where the puck dropped.

   Do you agree? Why or why not?

   Post your thoughts below. And while you're at it, tell us about the wonderful … or wonderfully awful … moments you witnessed within the walls (and in those smoke-filled walkways) of the Aud.

   ***

   I'll get the conversation on that latter question started.

   My Aud list pales in comparison to that of my hockey fan husband, News reporter T.J. Pignataro. I asked him for his favorite moments at the Aud, and … after deliberating for a very long time … he submitted the following as his Top Five. (The commencement ceremony for Canisius College in 1994, during which he sat beneath the scoreboard, narrowly missed the cut.)

   Everybody's Aud memories are highly personal.

   So your mileage, as they say, may vary.

   1.) Dec. 22, 1977: Just after he turned 6, and after years of begging, he saw his first NHL game. It was Buffalo vs. Pittsburgh and ended in a 3-3 tie. But, he got to sit right behind the Penguins' bench, and Peter Mahovlich gave him a stick. Chalk that up as a win. (And he still has the stick).

   2.) April 27, 1994: In college, he sneaked into the Aud with a buddy just before the start of the Sabres' first overtime in Game 6 versus the New Jersey Devils. The scoreless game went 4 OTs in all … and ended around 2 a.m. with Dave Hannan scoring on Martin Brodeur. A second-year goalie named Dominik Hasek made 70 saves … a record … and got the shutout in a 1-0 win.

   3.) April 10, 1993: Saw Buffalo win a championship, of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, at a Bandits game against the Philadelphia Wings. It was an end to their 10-0 season; what a perfect season it was. Had season tickets that year, in the reds.

   4.) March 9, 1986: Sabres beat the Devils, 4-3. He attended with a junior high school pal, and saw Gilbert Perreault score his 500th goal. The Sabres' bench emptied out onto the ice to congratulate Perreault...

   5.) April 14, 1996: A bittersweet, memorable night. The last game at the Aud. Buffalo beat the Whalers, 4-1. Pat LaFontaine put the puck into an empty net at the end … and the lights went out.

   That's what the Aud was about, right? Good friends, memorable moments.

   Share yours.

   -- Charity Vogel

   

Pumping up the public pensions

   New York state offers police the opportunity to retire at half pay after 20 years on the
job, or up to 75 percent of their salary after 32 years.

   But a Buffalo News analysis found some area officers get more.

   By working lots of overtime in their final year … or years … on the job, some officers pump
up their pensions to the point that they get as much in retirement as they did while working.

   And they often do it with tacit endorsement of their local governments, which negotiated
agreements allowing the pension boosting to occur.

   No one says that the police don't deserve a fair pension when it is time for them to
retire. The question is, what is fair?

   Do you think the negotiated salary-based pension rates are about right? Or do you think
they are too low, and that employees are perfectly justified in bumping them up through
overtime?

   And, if you are in the private sector, how does this compare with your retirement plans?

   

… Susan Schulman

   

Vacant housing: plenty of room for big vision

   The numbers are huge, even daunting.

   One out of every 12 or 13 properties in Buffalo -- a total of 7,000 to 8,000 -- will soon be owned by City Hall.

   Thirty-five percent of the city's streets have at least one city-owned vacant lot or house.

   Buffalo's vacant housing rate is the highest in New York and trails only Detroit and New Orleans among the 100 largest cities in the nation.

   How do you deal with a problem so immense?

   Experts say one of the answers is as big and bold as the problem itself -- a national demonstration project dedicated to vacant and abandoned housing right here in Buffalo.

   Joe Schilling, an urban planning professor at Virginia Tech and one of the founders of the National Vacant Properties Campaign, recently published an academic paper promoting Buffalo as home to America's first "living laboratory."

   The idea is to create a national showcase for how to solve the vacant housing crisis and, along the way, attract a lot of talent, expertise and money to Buffalo.

   Is it a good idea worth pursuing or, as city officials suggest, a well-intentioned plan destined for a dust-covered shelf?

-- Phil Fairbanks

   

The $700 billion question

WASHINGTON -- Enough.

   That's the message people are sending to members of Congress this week. After Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and AIG and Bear Stearns, enough. No more bailouts to save Wall Street from itself.

    And it's a message that, viscerally, feels right. After all, most Americans didn't buy their houses with the exploding-cigar mortgages that fueled a real estate boom (and bust). Most Americans haven't been "flipping" condos or investing in mortgaged-backed securities or credit default swaps that turned out to be worthless. So why should the vast majority of Americans bail out everybody who was so stupid?

   But, like most visceral feelings, this too may pass.

   After all, lawmakers are hearing that credit is tightening everywhere they look -- and they worry that without credit, the gears of the American economy will grind to a halt.

   And while none of them would say so outright, many must be wondering: OK, if you don't like a $700 billion bailout, do you have any better ideas?

-- Jerry Zremski

 

When jail is no solution to the crime

   It makes us all sick -- knowing that a newborn baby was shoved into a shoe box and thrown away like trash.

  That's what the police allege 19-year-old Alicia Zebrun did to the baby she gave birth to alone in her house after hiding the pregnancy from her parents.

   So far, no one knows why she did what she is accused of doing.

   Zebrun has been charged with second-degree murder and is being held without bond in jail.

   Many in the community want the book thrown at her. They want Zebrun to serve a long prison term.

   Others, including Neil Kaye, a forensic psychiatrist interviewed for today's story, said that jail time won't serve any good and that in most cases involving neonaticide, charges are dropped.

   What do you believe should happen to Zebrun?

   And what can be done to prevent more newborns from needlessly dying?

  -- Maki Becker

Fence has people talking at Whispering Pines

   One neighbor wanted a fence for privacy.

   Other neighbors say the safety of their children and grandchildren is being threatened by the six-foot stockade fence Michael Winiewicz recently installed in their subdivision - and that the Town of Lancaster should have thought twice before issuing a permit for him to build it.

   The fence blocks some vistas of a 15-foot-deep retention pond with steep, slippery sides tucked within Whispering Pines subdivision in Lancaster.

   Is this a safety issue? Or not?

   Is there a way to resolve this thorny neighborhood issue so that everyone is happy?

- Irene Liguori

Merging Catholic parishes play the name game

   What's in a name? In the case of Catholic parishes, a whole lot of identity and history. Changing parish names hasn't been easy. For some Catholics, a parish's name is nearly as precious as the place of worship. But most congregations involved in a merger have worked out a new name. Here are a few others from across the diocese:

   -- St. Cecilia in Sheldon, St. Mary Queen of the Rosary in Strykersville, St. Patrick in Java Center and St. Nicholas in North Java merged in June under the new parish name of St. John Neumann.

   -- St. Stephen in Middleport and Sacred Heart and St. Mary in Medina merged in July to form Holy Trinity parish.

   -- St. Bridget in Newfane, St. Charles Borromeo in Olcott and Our Lady of the Rosary in Wilson merged in June as St. Brendan on the Lake parish.

   -- St. Anthony, St. Joseph and St. Patrick in Lockport merged in February as All Saints parish.

   -- St. Barbara, St. Hyacinth and St. Michael the Archangel in Lackawanna and Our Lady of Grace in Woodlawn merged in March under the name Queen of Angels.

   -- St. Anthony in Lime Rock and St. Peter in LeRoy merged in May under the name Our Lady of Mercy.

   -- Sacred Heart and St. Teresa in Niagara falls merged in March as St. Raphael parish.

   -- Prince of Peace and St. Leo merged in September and became St. Vincent de Paul parish.

   -- Jay Tokasz

Non-stop talking in the friendly skies?

If you thought "Snakes on a Plane" was scary, here's another idea for a horror movie:

   "Cell Phones on a Plane."

   Cell phone use on planes in the air remains banned by two government agencies in this country. But the European Union has approved their use, and several European carriers are introducing the service this year.

   Further, several carriers are beginning to offer Internet service or electronic messaging service on planes, leaving the potential for VOIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, Web-based phone calls someday.

   It's enough to worry people who travel frequently for business and dread sitting next to the guy discussing his latest romantic fling  or the woman relating her latest trip to the doctor.

   In interviews, frequent fliers said they'd like the ability to check e-mail, send text messages or surf the Web at 30,000 feet. But the thought of cell phone calls or VOIP calls scares them.

   Do you think cell phones should be allowed while planes are in flight, if the safety concerns can be addressed? Would you like to stay connected even when you're in the air?

   What about the Internet, or e-mail and text messaging and Instant Messaging?

   

   … Stephen T. Watson

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