CASTRO VALLEY | In September, the unassuming unincorporated enclave of Castro Valley gained nationally-reported infamy after its school board approved the purchase of a $14,000 espresso machine. The criticism was immediate. “Why does a high school need a $14,000 espresso machine?” asked CBS News.

The expenditure was later rescinded, Castro Valley school board member Gary Howard, said at a candidates forum this month. Howard was appointed to the board last year and faces re-election for two open seats in a three-person race this November.

“We thought it was a good idea, but the community didn’t like it,” said Howard. However, he added the school district’s rationale was actually an attempt to save money and improve child nutrition.

The other incumbent, long-time board member Janice Friesen, like Howard, continued to stand by their decision authorizing the purchase of the expensive coffee machine. “I think it is important that the reason for a coffee machine was to increase the in-district catering.”

The high-profile controversy, uncommon for normally staid school board elections, could benefit the third candidate in the race, Dot Theodore.

She says there is no justification for the school board to approve the costly coffee machine. The funding identified for the machine is set aside for improving nutrition, she said, not creating revenue for the district.

“Not a single child is going to have a cup of coffee. No child is going to be served from that machine,” she continued. Instead, the money could be used for upgrading aging kitchens in the district and a student garden.

“None of their arguments hold up when you know that money is for child nutrition and coffee doesn’t go to our children.”