Columbia El criticism subsides

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat /

Columbia Elementary School's Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday marked a first in about two years: No discussion whatsoever on Superintendent John Pendley's handling of a sex crime on campus, his doctorate from a diploma mill or his granting of more than $100,000 in bonuses for school staff last November.

The prolonged scandal surrounding Pendley quieted with news this winter that Columbia Elementary's insurer had reached a $100,000 settlement with the victim of crimes perpetrated by Pendley's son Brennan on campus.

Brennan Pendley pleaded guilty in 2011 to having unlawful sex with a student in the after-school program, where he was working as an aide.

New trustee Jo Rodefer said in March that the school had taken steps to prevent similar instances and that it was time to "move on."

As a private citizen at earlier board meetings, Rodefer called for Pendley's resignation, but he has said he doesn't plan to retire until 2015.

Columbia trustees hired two new substitute after-school program employees Tuesday, along with two other employees.

"They're not related to anybody" on campus, Rodefer said after the meeting, referring to claims of nepotism made against the school district.

Columbia Elementary, Sonora Elementary, Summerville Elementary, Jamestown Elementary and Calaveras Unified School District are all waiting to hear whether federal grants for their after-school programs have been renewed.

Curtis Creek Elementary School and Soulsbyville Elementary School applied for the competitive grants for the first time this year.

They come from the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, which pays for free afternoon activities and academic support at high-poverty schools.

For this year, Columbia's third in the program, the school received $163,000. Columbia Elementary Chief Business Official Norma Hunt said she expects news about future funding later this month or early in May.

Columbia Elementary has two job titles in its after-school program and doesn't require a degree or paraprofessional test for the "aide" position. The school board adopted that policy after it came to light that Brennan Pendley was unqualified when he was hired.

By contrast, every employee in Sonora Elementary School's popular after-school program either earned a degree or passed the paraprofessional test, according to Cindy Jensen, who oversees the program there.

Tuesday's meeting at Columbia opened with a lighthearted skit by drama students, who invited board members to their upcoming play.

Third-grade teacher Carol Kent, who has repeatedly spoken in Pendley's support, thanked Pendley and school Principal Ed Pelfrey for giving her time off to take care of an injured family member.

"I love working at this school," Kent said. "My heart is at this school. It just consumes most of my life."

The Union Democrat
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