The Cost of “Free” for Portland Public Schools

A few weeks ago, I find a letter in my daughter’s backpack stating that, “the dental exam provided showed no signs of cavity or infection”. This is an example of the public school system overstepping its boundaries. ViDA, the organization that funds dental, vision and hearing exams to Portland Public School has gotten itself into some hot water recently. But not for giving kids medical screenings without parental consent. They used $5,000 in donations to pay for an advertising slot on Oregon Public Broadcasting. ViDA gets its donations from big name sponsors like Walmart (State). So, I am at least comforted in the fact that none of the PPS budget is being spent on this program. While our children getting unsolicited dental exams at school may seem like harmless gesture, it is in reality a gross misappropriation of funds and resources. It also leaves parents like me, who are already providing their children with these necessities, feeling like their toes have been stepped on.

Nobody likes being deceived, no matter what the product of that deception is. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I send my children to school for an education and they are instead removed from class for medical exams that I had no knowledge of. It is not ridiculous for a parent to play the “my child, my responsibility” card under any conditions. In fact, it is exactly that attitude that should be encouraged by the public school system. Giving children services at school that have not been asked for or even consented to by the parents is not only discouraging, it is a flat out violation.

The idea that the parents should be expected to emotionally and financially support their children completely seems like common sense to me. But according to the widely available services for my kids at school, maybe I am the minority. I would not have had my children if I could not afford to feed, clothe and care for them. Anything less than this is absolutely unacceptable in my book. With that said, I also understand that many parents have fallen on hard times due to the recession and other circumstances. I cannot ignore the fact that there are many children in Portland Public Schools that are in dire need of services provided by their schools, including free/reduced price meals, dental, vision and hearing exams. These services are an absolute necessity for some of my children’s classmates. But, I do disagree with the automatic outflow of them without solicitation or discretion. Not all PPS students are in need of this. 71% of my children’s schoolmates were eligible for free lunches during the 2011-2012 school year (CCD). These services cost money and time; resources that could be used to improve the actual product of our public schools, which is an education for all children, rich and poor alike. And while I am comforted by ViDA paying for the medical screenings, the free/reduced price lunches and free breakfast do come out of the school’s budget.

But it doesn’t end at breakfast. I pack lunches for both of my children every day. I assumed that this gave some degree of control over what they are eating for the only meal they eat away from home during the school week. This was an illusion. The lunch room has a table stocked with chocolate, strawberry and regular cow’s milk free for any child who wants one, or two, or three. While the school offers these choices to my children, I get to read notes that come home from their school asking all parents to please remind their children not to share food at lunch as many of the students have food allergies. My children do not have food allergies but we make food choices that we believe are just as essential as avoiding foods that you have an allergy to. I choose to feed my family a minimal amount of animal products. And when we do drink cow’s milk or eat an animal we choose do so in a mindful way, organic, free-range and free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Just as the parent of a child with peanut allergies doesn’t feed their child peanut butter because of the damage this would do to the child, I don’t feed my children animal products in excess because of the damage an animal based diet has on a health and overall well-being. And when my child’s school offers Alpenrose chocolate cow’s milk every day, I view this as a threat to their health.

So, just how much do these services cost Portland Public Schools? If we only look at my children’s school, Clinton Kelly Elementary, during the 2012-2013 school year there were a total of 570 students. And 407 of those students were eligible for free lunches (CCD). The first glaring outpoint is that according to these numbers 71.4% of parents apparently can’t afford to send their kid to school with lunch or even pay the school to feed their child. But since I can’t make the argument that parents should just take better responsibility for their kids, then let’s look at the cost of providing breakfast as well as milk at lunch to the children of families who can afford to feed them, the remaining 28.6%. A box of milk costs around $.40 and an individually wrapped breakfast pastry costs about $.97. Let’s say hypothetically, that on any given day 70% of kids not eligible for free lunch, do eat the breakfast as well as help themselves to one of the milk boxes at lunch. That is 114 kids who don’t need the school’s help, they will consume $201.78 worth of food a day at the schools expense. With 180 days in the average public school year, the yearly cost comes to $36,320.40 not including the labor cost for serving the food. Thirty-six thousand dollars a year is about the annual salary for a first-year elementary school teacher (PPS). And this is just one school’s yearly cost for this totally unnecessary service. I am sure that my children’s teachers would agree that this money could be better spent. Kelly Elementary specifically has a higher student to teacher ratio than the national average by 2.43 students (CCD).

If we continued to provide the current services to a generous number of children only after the parents have been required to complete an application determining their family’s need for each service individually, we would be removing the unnecessary cost of giving services to families who do not need them. You don’t need to do the math to conclude that we could save money by fine tuning the system to continue providing services to those who need them and not providing them to those who don’t.

The price we pay for our current system is much more than financially costly. The pride gained from keeping your personal and familial responsibilities your own has gotten lost somewhere. When an outside party steps in and takes a piece of that responsibility from a parent or any person, it should not go unchallenged. Taking responsibility away from the responsible party is not the best solution in most cases. If every morning before my son woke up in the morning, I quietly slipped his shoes on and tied the laces for him, he would never learn to put on and tie his own shoes. And even worse he would never experience the pride of successfully accomplishing that task. I wonder how many parents like me got that letter in their child’s backpack and didn’t call the school office to ask why their child’s mouth was being examined by an unknown dentist without parental consent. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t call and complain. “The schools are already so overwhelmed” I thought, “Why ruffle any feathers unnecessarily?” In hindsight this is of course a mistake. How are they to know that I do not need or want these services unless I tell them? And that is exactly the point I make here. Such services should not be provided unless I, the parent, the responsible party applies for said services. Our public schools would not only save money, they would prevent the social affect that the current system has on parents and ultimately the community as a whole. That affect is parents taking less and less responsibility for their children.

Parents begin sending their kids to school without breakfast because PPS offers a free breakfast to every student who walks through the doors every morning without discretion. Literally the breakfast cart and lunch lady stands directly inside the main entrance, with a smile and an outstretched hand she makes eye contact with every child as he/she comes to school and asks them if they would like breakfast. It’s not an easy offer to turn down. Especially for kids like mine who do not have sugary foods available to them every day at home. Homemade granola with rice milk for breakfast doesn’t hold a candle to a sweet pastry and chocolate milk in the eyes of my 6 and 7 year old children. After they have already eaten my breakfast, they’ll take the pastry and chocolate milk for a post breakfast dessert. This is a frustrating reality that I have never had the opportunity to opt out of since my children started school.

The same well-meaning parent chooses not to pay for dental, vision and hearing exams for their children because the school already provides that service for free. Why pay when I can get it for free seems logical but, in fact we are paying for it, our children are paying for it and our children’s teachers are paying for it.

Asking our public schools to stop offering such services would be grossly unrealistic, not to mention cruel. But it is certainly not ridiculous to require parents to apply for the benefits that they have a need for.

Works Cited

CCD, Common Core of Data. “National Center for Educational Statistics.” Institute of Education Services, 2012. Web. 17 05 2014. <;.

PPS, Portland Public Schools. Teacher Salary Schedule. Portland, Oregon, 2014. Web. 18 05 2014.

State, Oregon Secretary of. Elections Division Case Number 11-102 CS. Judgement. Salem,Oregon, 2011. Web. 17 05 2014. <;.



Graphic Sex vs. Graphic Violence on the Big Screen

Graphic Sex vs. Graphic Violence on the Big Screen

Edward Jay Epstein’s essay, “Sex and the Cinema” makes the claim that one important necessity to a film’s success is the absence of sex, namely graphic sex. Epstein backs his claim well but royally fails to address a topic that plagued me for the entirety of his essay and left me wondering about the question of violence vs. sexual content and their vast differences in the Motion Picture Association of America’s film rating system. Why is violence less offensive than sex? And perhaps more importantly what does this say about us as consumers?

A film that earns a “G” rating for general audiences, means it’s appropriate for all ages, it will not have nudity, sex or course language but may contain mild violence according to the MPAA’s website (Bryson). The MPAA and their daughter company Classification & Rating Administration have come under fire in recent years over their loose attitude toward violence. Critics have accused them of being harsher on sexual content than violence, a phenomenon known as a “ratings creep”. MPAA representatives respond by pointing their fingers at consumers; saying that the public is demanding increasing levels of violence on film (Sneed). CARA decides what rating a film has earned by bringing together a panel of several parents to view and then vote on the appropriate rating for the film (CARA). So while the MPAA has guidelines for the viewing panel to follow, ultimately that panel decides the definition of “mild violence”.

Epstein did a great job showing the evolution of sexual content in films and how the presence and absence of it has had a make or break impact on a movie’s box office sales. He starts in the early days of Hollywood, when Cecil B. DeMille had bathing scenes as an essential part of all his films and how this translated his movies being consistently high grossing (Epstein). This is in stark contrast to the modern recipe for a winning movie, which is to keep your hands to yourself, that is unless you’re slapping someone with them.

While I am not advocating for children to be allowed in to see a movie depicting graphic sex or sexual content, I find it ironic that in a country where we see over sexualized images, the objectification of the human body (almost always the female body) on magazine covers, commercials, billboards and music videos constantly, yet we have regulations that transform a movie theater into a some sacred place where our children are not exposed to these images. The truth is, just as Epstein shows in his essay, that money talks, walks and makes all the rules including the rules that govern what is categorized as moral or obscene.

There is no problem with having a clearly defined system for rating movies based on content. But, there are two questions that this current self-regulating system presents. First, what sort of message are we sending with the rating system as it is now to our children and society as a whole about violence and sex? I am of the opinion that we are making a very clear statement that nudity and even sex between two consenting adults should be viewed as significantly more visually and emotionally offensive than the gross violation of another human being’s body by the intentional infliction of pain at the hands of another. Our media restricting guidelines and regulations act under the guise of protecting our children and showing them what is acceptable and what isn’t, when as we know, money is the real driving force behind them. Consequentially, the current rating system tells our children that they should have a stronger negative reaction to walking in on their mother nude in the tub than the sight of her being beaten by a man. This may seem like a pretty rich exaggeration, but I believe that is what it really boils down to.

My second question casts a wider eye on sex and violence as it is depicted in the media in general. Since its development, the PG13 rating has brought in more revenue than any other rating, making it a sweet spot for many film makers looking to make a big profit (Sneed). The movie theater is off limits when it comes to sexual content due to its need for revenue and the loss in sales that it would experience if sexual nudity was shown as often as graphic violence. Because apparently sex doesn’t sell movies even though it certainly sells everything else from cheese burgers to clothing. Modern American adults and children will see the sexual objectification of women as a means to sell products on a daily basis just by turning on the television or doing the perfectly innocent task of grocery shopping. But, these companies are only doing what works to get us buying. We, the consumers, tell them what we deem desirable with our wallets. And according to the magazine rack at the grocery store, the Victoria’s Secret commercial interlude to your violent movie on television and whatever is playing at your local theater, we are making the boundaries of our own moral maps crystal clear.


Works Cited

Bryson, Carey. “; 2012. 13 4 2014.

CARA. 2013. 13 4 2014.

Epstein, Edward Jay. “Sex and the Cinema.” Annette T. Rottenberg, Donna Haisty Winchell. The Structure of Argument. Boston, 2012. 43-46.

MPAA. 2014. 12 4 2014.

Sneed, Tierny. “; 7 1 2014. 13 4 2014.



When did you become an adult?
Were you slowly climbing, each breath bringing you closer to membership in this cult?
For me it presented itself the way a gun finds you peacefully sleeping and presents itself to your head,
The way the sun presents itself to that patch on your shoulder, already burnt, red.
I was surprised.
This moment, the beginning of adulthood,
When I realized, my mother, my unicorn,
Was quite simply, a horse, like me.
An animal in a hat, Stupid and pointy,

This hat, Fantasy of my childhood, was fashioned of tinsel and paper, fell from atop it’s perch with the weight of a feather.
This heavy morning, gun to my head & hot sun on my skin burnt red, was a funeral of sorts.
A morning for mourning.
But the gun & the sun felt no remorse,
They smiled and said,
“Wave goodbye Siobhan, Go Ahead and cry Siobhan.”
But who’s leaving & who am I mourning? I asked.
“Well, It’s your childhood and your mother the unicorn, of course!”
I hated them,
The gun, that unsympathetic bullhorn of bad news & the incessant unyielding heat of the sun.
But the gun never pulled its trigger,
He only threatened me with a mirror.
When I look into it I see,
Another animal, like me.
I see my mother,
Soul of power,
Body of goddess,
She is infinite.
And yet the death of her vessel, always pending.
Makes our time together indefinite.
She is my constant reminder,
Of reality vs. novelty,
The difference between a flickering star and an airplane.
A hug and an embrace.
I met her when I joined this cult,
The day her silly tinsel hat fell off and I became an adult.
-Siobhan K. Burke

A photo of my Mother.

Birth certificate taste on a beer budget By, Siobhan K Burke

Some of us create our kin without a pot to piss in,
two silly souls giggle and grin, thoughtlessly
forgetting that a new life is more than money, costly.

Children laugh and children cry
and then they bloom and begin to ask why?
what has been their history and what will be their fate?
They will be confused and feel roused,
but now all your bright ideas will be too late.

And there it went, did you feel it? Your moment has passed.
I wonder, was it good? and about how long did it last?

-Siobhan K. Burke

Parenthood, don’t waste it.

There will always be those who do not respect the power of parenthood, but the truth is, this is not one of those things that you can be “sort of” good at. Its not like mopping the floor or something, I mean the dirt that you left in the corner is not going to grow up one day to be Fidel Castro. Either you do it right or you dont, bottom line. It is obvious to me the consequences of taking on parenthood willy nilly, I mean we see it all over the news everyday. But, It is not just the big name terrrible people of the world or the career criminals, even worse are the ones who grow up to be decent human beings…and thats it, just decent.
The best thing I can do is take my own advice, love, honor and respect my babies more and more everyday and in doing that I am making the world a better place. Our children are not our legacy in the sense that they will carry our name on into the future, they are our gift to the future. We as parents have the greatest power ever bestowed upon anyone…to change and grow mankind into a loving, generous, and kind race by simply raising our children with these values. It is so simple, yet, it gets overlooked and ignored and wasted and wasted and wasted time and time again.
Don’t waste it.

Stars By, Siobhan K Burke

My cars and my belly scars,
My lashes and leggings and longing,
Boots, buttons and bangles,
My thighs and my thyroid,
For me are no matter.

My Garden, my Children, my Partner and my Mother,
These are the stars I see and the stars I seek,
They glow and flicker,
only long enough to know a sliver,
Of what they mean and what they’ve meant.
My Stars and I together,
We’ve seen and sent,
Received and bereaved.

No, never my cars and belly scars,
I only have eyes for my sweet flickering Stars.

~Siobhan K. Burke