Parent on lunch bills: Maintaining debt stops junk food

Parent on lunch bills: Maintaining debt stops junk food

CUMBERLAND – Jane Perron says her family is partially to blame for the Cumberland School Department’s rising lunch bill debt, but says she was almost forced into this situation after the district’s food service provider failed to block her son from buying junk food.

Perron said her 16-year-old Cumberland High School student, Owen, was previously charging some $6 or $7 each day in junk food beyond his $4 hot lunch, adding such extra items as french fries and $2 drinks in drawing down his account. She said she kept telling him not to buy the items, but he continued to do so, so she contacted Sodexo Food Services and asked workers to place a block on the account to prevent such purchases. She said they agreed to do so, and assured her Owen would still be allowed to buy regular hot meals.

Perron says those requested blocks aren’t working, and she now always carries a balance because “it is the only way I have been able to stop him from charging junk food. Carrying a debt prevents items from being charged.

“I have blocked his account and they still allow him to charge junk,” she said. “It’s a pain because then I have to see what he ordered and take that money from him. Or I have to call and complain that his account is supposed to be blocked.”

But if Owen’s account is in the negative, “he gets lunch and I don’t pay for junk food,” she said, adding that she suspects other parents are doing the same thing. She said she grew tired of going to Owen every time he bought junk items and making him reimburse her.

Perron says she has every intention of paying off Owen’s full meal bill. On Monday, after making comments about the situation on Facebook last week, Perron said she got a “nasty collections notice” stating that she’d been notified multiple times about her debt, “which is funny since I always paid each time after the notice.”

She said she would be calling Supt. Bob Mitchell on Tuesday to complain about the whole process.

The Breeze reported last week that school officials were looking to reverse policies prohibiting alternative cheese or nut butter sandwiches when students reach a certain debt level. School Committee member Mark Fiorillo said many people have been boasting on Facebook about not paying their outstanding balances, which have exceeded $50,000.

In a public conversation with Fiorillo on Facebook last week, Perron said students can still buy fries, ice cream, smoothies, chips and extra drinks even when a block is placed on their account. She said Sodexo employees agreed to place the block, but her son continued to be allowed to add items.

“He’s a 16-year-old boy,” she later told The Breeze, adding that she went to Sodexo three times about the issue. “This is getting ridiculous.”

Fiorillo responded that school officials are working toward a solution.

“Even the ‘junk’ food meets federal guidelines for school meals,” he said. “The snacks are specifically made to meet school requirements. I do agree that we need to look at what snacks are being offered.”

Shauna Spillane, general manager at Sodexo, declined to comment on Perron’s claims this week other than to say that school officials are working on reworking policies.

Perron said she pays up at the end of every month and her son’s bill is paid in full at the end of the year. She estimates that her debt is likely around $100 currently.

“It might not be right, but it makes my life easier and I don’t have to watch what he buys all the time,” she said.

Owen has to maintain a gluten-free diet, she said, which poses an issue with the potential new alternative lunches.

She says she wants to know the balance limit so she can always make sure it is paid to there, and says she would pay ahead if workers would heed the block on Owen’s account and not let him charge on it.

She said she would like to have an option to buy lunch only, with no extras allowed. Owen is one of her three children in the school system, and the only one getting a hot lunch.

“I promise I will pay by the end of the year,” she said, emphasizing that she’s not one of those parents who believe their children are entitled to have the schools pay for their lunches.

“I will pay every penny of his lunch. I fully believe we should pay,” she said. “This was the only way I could stop him from buying extra junk food. Make the block work and I would be happy to pay ahead.”

Owen, she said, was spending more on lunch than she does at her job, and she works in Providence.

“They should be able to not allow these kids to charge,” she said. “It’s not a credit card.”

Current school policy states that when an account has an outstanding or negative balance, parents are notified by email. When the account has an outstanding balance of $25 or more, they receive a phone call. When it climbs to $40, a letter and phone call go out, and the letter states that the matter will be sent to collections if not paid within 10 days.


This sums up the whole problem, “It might not be right, but it makes my life easier and I don’t have to watch what he buys all the time” .

Close the account and send a bagged lunch problem solved, no worry about collections or special diet needs.

Nice Mom and Valley Breeze. I get the mother is frustrated but humiliating him is not the way to get this kid's spending under control. This kid will be the butt of everyone's joke. Have him sit in the office during lunchtime by himself with a bag lunch. I'm sure after a few days of that torture, he will learn his lesson.

So, it should be Sodexo's responsibility the be sure this 16 year old young man doesn't buy junk food? Ludicrous, how about holding him accountable for his choices? "She said she kept telling him not to buy the items, but he continued to do so". The greater question is why does he still do it even after he has been asked/told not to by his mother. Hold him accountable, don't try to pass the responsibility of that to Sodexo.

How about we give little Owen a monthly allowance for his school lunch and if he doesnt use his money as intended and blows it before the end of the month he goes hungry. Lets teach little Owen some responsibility before he gets to far out of control. Seems he has no concept of money. ;

You have to be kidding....I can not believe I just read this can`t make this stuff up. How about this "16 year old boy" show some respect and listen to his mother`s wishes. It is not Sodexo`s responsibility to monitor what your son eats..I would close the account and then he would get nothing

That's the problem with the the system. If you placed 40 in an account. The kid could spend 40 on snacks the first week and would still be allowed to buy lunch every day into the negative. Anytime there is money in the account, it can be used for anything. There is a system update that now allows for a youth to only charge lunch and everything else to be blocked

How about make the kid a lunch or let him starve. Time for junior to grow up and time for mom actually be a parent.

I put a certain amount in my daughter's account each month. She knows how much it is and is allowed to spend that much on lunch that month. Once the money is gone, she must take a lunch from home. She is not allowed to go over the amount that is put into her account or she owes me double whatever she goes over. It is good budget practice and it allows her to make lunch choices without me over her shoulder.