Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Columbia Union School District is now accepting applications for a vacancy on its five-seat Board of Trustees, and Sonora Elementary has appointed a new member.

Both school districts found themselves with empty or soon-to-be-empty board seats this fall. The Nov. 6 general election decided at least one board seat for most other Tuolumne County and Calaveras County school districts.

Applications for the seat on the Columbia Union School District Board of Trustees are available at the Columbia Union School District office at 22540 Parrotts Ferry Road. They include basic questions about experience, connections to the school and volunteerism.

Potential board members must be registered voters at least 18 years old and reside within district boundaries.

Applications must be received by noon on Tuesday, Dec. 11, the date of Columbia Elementary's next regular board meeting. For more information, contact district secretary Lisa Blaylock at 532-0202, ext. 174.

Applications will be reviewed for eligibility by Columbia Elementary's two continuing board members, Jeff Wittman and Laura Phelan.

Candidates will then be interviewed in public by Wittman, Phelan, and new board members Danese Pimentel and Jo Rodefer, who will be sworn in at the Dec. 11 meeting.

The district will likely set a date for the interviews at the Dec. 11 meeting.

The Columbia Elementary vacancy was left by Jeff Costello, whose wife Cindy Costello works in the school office and in the after-school program.

Jeff Costello abstained from a Board of Trustees vote Sept. 11 that would have promoted Cindy Costello to the position of after-school program supervisor.

The arrangement was later reeled back on the advice of Columbia Elementary's legal counsel, according to outgoing board member Jeff Tolhurst.

Costello said in an Oct. 31 resignation letter that his position on the board was preventing his wife fromadvancing in her career. District staff said she is not reapplying for the promotion.

Costello resigned from the Board of Trustees with just days to spare before the Nov. 6 election, and the newly empty seat couldn't have been included on the ballot, according to Tuolumne County Clerk and Auditor-Controller Debi Russell Bautista.

Instead, the district's two options for filling the seat are holding a special election or appointing a member. The board decided this month that it will appoint a member rather than hold a special election, which Russell Bautista estimated would cost $2,000 to $4,000.

Columbia Elementary's Board of Trustees has faced steady public criticism for its handling of a scandal involving Superintendent John Pendley's son, who had sex with a 14-year-old girl in a classroom while employed there in 2010.

Rodefer has publicly called for Pendley's resignation in the wake of the scandal.

Jenny David, a special education teacher and Columbia Elementary parent who was defeated in the Nov. 6 election by Rodefer and Pimentel, is applying for the empty board seat.

She said at an October forum for Columbia candidates that shewould take her questions or concerns to John Pendley first, but later said the comment reflected her respect for protocol.

She has declined to weigh in on whether she agreed with Rodefer, saying she felt it would not be appropriate for her to speak about Pendley's employment while a board candidate.

"I'm not going to talk about personnel issues and I'm going to treat people with respect," David said. "But as issues come up, I'll ask lots of questions … I've been attending the board meetings for over a year, listening and learning."

Sonora Elementary School's Board of Trustees also decided to appoint a new member for the seat left by Don Rolle, who is joining the Tuolumne County Board of Education.

Current board members appointed Sonora Elementary parent Jeff Teem to the seat on Nov. 26.

Teem was part of the first kindergarten class at Sonora Elementary's Greenley Road building, constructed in the early 1970s. Rolle was one of his math teachers. Teem is now a technology executive who has two children of his own at the school.

"I had planned on always volunteering in the community in any capacity that I could, where my background and skill set would be of value," Teem said.