There's still a coffee pot in the break room of the Edmonds School District administrative offices, and employees still take turns buying...

There’s still a coffee pot in the break room of the Edmonds School District administrative offices, and employees still take turns buying coffee beans, but they now have a more upscale option.

A new $15,000 automated espresso machine provides what they say are Starbucks-quality mochas, lattes and Americanos to district staff for less than Starbucks prices. There’s even an array of syrups to flavor employees’ espresso drinks.

The school district says the espresso machine will pay for itself in about 20 months and then generate revenue for the food-service operation, which is self-sustaining and does not take money from the general fund. And 5 percent of the proceeds will go into the district budget to support teachers and students, said Food Services Program Director Barbara Lloyd.

But coming at a time when the school district is cutting its budget $4.5 million and eliminating 35 teaching positions, a high-end espresso machine may seem a luxury.

Save 75% on a Digital Subscription Today

“It’s incredibly extravagant when you’ve got [Superintendent Nick] Brossoit running around talking about how dire the budget is and how class sizes are getting bigger. That’s not the time to be buying an expensive espresso machine,” said Al Lyon, a teacher at Lynnwood Elementary School.

But other staff members say it’s a tempest in a coffee pot.

“I think it’s just trivial,” said Ethel McNeal, a purchasing specialist in the administrative offices and president of the local Public School Employees union of office personnel. “We’ve got more pressing problems.”

District officials say they added the espresso machine to meet the needs of their market and are considering adding automated espresso machines to teachers lounges at district schools, much as they are adding salad bars to elementary schools in the fall.

“We’re growing our business based on what customers want,” said Lloyd.

The district’s elementary schools will all get salad bars in the fall to add a healthful menu choice to school lunches.

Lloyd said she’d love to get each school an espresso machine so teachers would have quality coffee drinks available during the day, but state law requires money from such sales to go the Associated Student Body at each school, meaning the district couldn’t recoup the cost. And the district’s nutrition policy prohibits selling coffee to students.

Edmonds isn’t alone in purchasing an espresso machine for the administrative offices, though it may have spent the most money. A self-supporting deli in the Seattle Public Schools administration building began offering espresso drinks in 2004, said David Tucker, spokesman for the Seattle Schools. The machine cost $6,000 and has paid for itself, he said.

Lake Washington and Tacoma school districts both have espresso carts run by special-education students at their administration buildings. Students learn barista skills and acquire work experience, said Leanna Albrecht, community-relations coordinator for Tacoma Public Schools.

Concordia Coffee Systems of Bellevue manufactures the espresso machine, which features a refrigerated-milk compartment, water filter, grinding mechanism, gauges to measure the temperature of steam and fresh beans in decaf and regular.

The company boasts that their machines save money compared with traditional commercial espresso machines because they operate by a touch-button display and don’t require a barista. Edmonds has an attendant in its employee café, but the machine could be operated with a key card such as is used for student lunches.

Some colleges and universities, including Harvard, Stanford and Yale, have purchased the machines for their student cafeterias and campus cafés, said Concordia Vice President Bill Dixon. But Dixon said Edmonds may be the first public school district to buy one.

Dixon said the ingredients to make a “really good” 12-ounce latte cost about 46 cents. National coffee-house chains charge upwards of $2.50 per drink, he said, making the profit around 85 percent.

Edmonds’ food-services director first saw the high-tech espresso machine at a state nutrition show. Lloyd said she tasted the coffee and concluded, “It’s the first automated machine with a fabulous drink.”

She said the addition of the espresso machine has already generated about $250 in additional sales each week. About $75 is from espresso drinks — which generally cost $2.25 to $2.50 — and the rest is from new customers buying food with their drinks.

“It’s a very smart business move,” said Edmonds School District spokeswoman Debbie Jakala. “Our food-service manager saw a place where there was revenue to be made.”

The food-service operation last year contributed $200,000 to the district’s general fund, Jakala said.

Tam Osborne, the district’s human-resources director, stopped by for an Americano last week, in the midst of calculating staffing needs for the coming school year. He said he appreciated being able to get a good cup of coffee without leaving the building.

“I’m here instead of taking my 15-minute break,” he said.

Similarly, Ed Peters, capital-projects director, said, “I don’t have to get in my car and drive five minutes away.”

Lloyd said the machine pays off not only in profits but in staff morale.

“Happy employees are productive employees,” she said.

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or