CASTRO VALLEY — Some tempers started boiling over when a recent school board agenda listed a proposed purchase of a $14,000 coffee machine.
What seems to have started the brew ha ha was the way the item was listed on the school board agenda: as an espresso machine. That got comments flying on social media in an election year:
“Return the machine, get a Mr. Coffee, and if Jim Negri wants a latte, well he can go to Starbucks and pay for one from his own income, just the way everyone else in town does,” a parent posted, referring to the school superintendent.
The machine in question is not a standard espresso machine, though apparently it can whip up a mean one. It is an industrial coffee maker that also would quickly heat water for tea and hot chocolate, heat apple cider and steam milk.
But after parents raised a ruckus, the district held off on the purchase.
The machine was part of a plan to expand the district’s in-house catering service to reduce the cost of providing food for school events, train culinary students and possibly offer catering for activities outside the district.
Yes, $14,000 is a lot of money, school board member Janice Friesen said. But the machine would get a lot of use.
“We want something that will last and be a good investment,” Friesen said.
Currently, Castro Valley students enrolled in the vocational culinary program travel to the regional occupational center campus near Chabot College in Hayward to take classes. The coffee maker was part of plan that would allow them to get hands-on training in Castro Valley instead.
The machine also would have been used to serve drinks at district functions. Castro Valley Unified said “expanding district catering services” when mentioning meals provided at school workshops, planning sessions, teacher training, etc. For many, catering conjures up an image of waiters with trays of appetizers.
What the district was referring to is breakfasts for staff at the beginning of the year, basic lunches and light breakfasts for all-day training sessions, food at after-school sessions for teachers, etc. While there may be a coffee pot at each site, when staffs from three or four schools gather, that coffee pot cannot fill the demand, Friesen said.
“If it’s after school and you’re asking people to come for development, you cannot not give them something. You have to feed them,” she said.
Castro Valley has paid other local school districts to provide food at staff events, Friesen said. The district also holds a teacher of the year event at the Castro Valley Center for the Performing Arts, which an outside vendor caters.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our school district catered it and our school district got the money?” Friesen asked.
The money to buy the machine would not being diverted away from classrooms. It’s in the food services budget, whose funds are restricted (they can’t be spent elsewhere).
The coffee maker was to be part of a plan to revitalize the district’s food service program proposed by Brenda Lightfoot-Handy, hired earlier this year as head of child nutrition.
The official statement from Superintendent Negri:
“Questions have been raised about a purchase for our Child Nutrition Program, and in an effort to be responsive to our school community, we have made a decision to hold the purchase. Long term, we feel the investment in this commercial grade coffee and beverage machine would expand the capacity of our catering program, as well as benefit our vocational education food and catering program. However, given that we are in the process of developing these programs, for now we believe it is prudent to hold the purchase. Our community hears us when we ask for their support, and, in turn, we must hear them when they raise questions and concerns. I hope the decision to revisit the purchase reflects our commitment to be responsible partners with our community members and staff.”