New blood on school boards

By Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat November 07, 2012 10:10 am

Preliminary results make it appear several new faces were elected to Tuolumne County school boards in Tuesday’s election. 

Among the bigger surprises, according to the unofficial results:

At Columbia Union School District, a leading critic of Superintendent John Pendley earned more votes than a competing candidate who expressed trust in him. The candidate with the most votes was a Columbia Elementary parent who has also voiced a desire for more answers about a sex scandal on campus. 

Marjorie “Marge” Jones, an 83-year-old retired teacher who has been on the Curtis Creek School District board for 14 years, was edged out of her board seat by a pair of challengers. 

Dave Marquez, an incumbent on Summerville Union High School District’s Board of Trustees, got fewer votes than fellow incumbent Dennis Spisak and challenger Carrie Ashe in the race for two board seats. 

A total of 11 seats across six Tuolumne County school districts were on the general election ballot Tuesday, and 17 candidates were vying for them. 

Members of public school boards approve budgets, vote to hire and fire staff, and set school district policy. At all districts, those elected to each four-year term will confront the challenge of budgeting in a time of declining enrollment and tight spending.

For all but the smallest school districts, each board has five members. Typically, two seats are up one year and three in the next election. 

In each race, the nonpartisan seats went to the candidate or candidates with the most votes. 

There are still outstanding votes to be counted in Tuolumne County, an estimated 5,000 mail-in and 1,800 provisional ballots. The estimates could not be broken down by school district Tuesday night. 

Unofficial election results from Tuesday indicate that two seats on Columbia Union School District’s five-member board went to Danese Pimentel and Jo Rodefer, who won against Jenny David. 

Pimentel, 46, and David, 50, both have children at Columbia Elementary School. Jo Rodefer, 62, has no family there and is the wife of Tuolumne County District 5 supervisorial candidate Karl Rodefer. 

Pimentel won 1,370 votes, or about 46.1 percent of those cast. Rodefer won 965 votes, or about 32.5 percent, and David won 619, or about 20.8 percent.

Rodefer is a vocal critic of superintendent John Pendley, who has been a controversial figure since his son pled guilty to having sex with a student on campus in 2010. 

Pendley came under fire for asking staff members to write letters to the judge on his son’s case, blaming the victim and asking for leniency. 

 The three Columbia Union School District candidates participated in a forum Oct. 10 for local candidates in Columbia. 

At the Oct. 10 forum, David expressed a degree of trust in Pendley, saying she would take personnel-related questions to him first. 

Pimentel has said she wanted to find out more about the incident but that decisions couldn’t be based on media coverage or hearsay. 

Rodefer, a businesswoman, publicly called for Pendley’s resignation in the wake of the 2010 scandal and criticized the board’s “stony silence” when faced with public questions. 

Rodefer said Tuesday that she plans to get answers for the community on Pendley’s handling of the sex scandal on campus. 

She added that she doesn’t believe a legal claim against the district prevents the Board of Trustees from answering “reasonable and rational” questions from the community.  

An abrupt change may come to Curtis Creek School District’s Board of Trustees with the departure of Jones from Sonora, who has served as a member for 14 years. 

Jones was one of three candidates vying for two board seats. 

She garnered 963 votes compared with 1,575 for Mike Holland and 1,433 for Courtney Castle, both of Sonora. 

Altogether, Jones took about 24.2 percent of the votes, Holland took 39.5 percent and Castle took 36 percent. 

Castle, 30, has worked as a college instructor and counselor. Holland, 37, is a small business owner and contractor.

Another school board incumbent, David Marquez, appears to have lost his seat on Summerville Union High School District’s Board of Education after garnering fewer votes than two other candidates. 

Marquez was running against a second incumbent, Dennis Spisak, and challenger Carrie Ashe. 

Marquez earned about 1,333 votes, or about 28.9 percent of those cast. Ashe took 1,690, or 37 percent, and Spisak took 1,557 or 34 percent. 

Ashe, 44, has volunteered at Summerville High and been a member of the school’s site council. She has also volunteered as an archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Spisak, 66, of Twain Harte, is a former trustee at Twain Harte-Long Barn Union School District and has served on various local governing boards. 

 At Sonora Union High School District, former high school teacher Katryn Norvell-Weston, 35, defeated 46-year-old Sonora resident Erik Andal for a seat on the Board of Trustees by earning 63.7 percent of votes. 

 Weston earned 3,878 votes, or about 63.7 percent of those cast, and Andal earned 2,175, or 35.7 percent. 

The two candidates vied for the board seat occupied by Board President Ed Clinite, who did not seek reelection. 

Clinite represented the area that includes Belleview, Columbia, Curtis Creek and Soulsbyville school districts.

Both Weston and Andal are instructors at Columbia College — Weston as a math teacher, Andal in automotive technology and as technical trades coordinator. 

Two board terms at Soulsbyville School District expired this year, and three candidates tried for the seats. 

Preliminary results suggest that incumbents Denise Houghton and Heather Spangler won against challenger David Titchenal. 

Spangler had 795 votes, or 37.4 percent of those cast, and Houghton had 815, or 38.3 percent. Titchenal earned 508, or about 23.9 percent. 

 Houghton, 50, of Soulsbyville, is a parent of five and volunteer at her church youth group. Spangler, 47, of Sonora, is also a parent of five children.

 In a close race at Summerville School District, incumbents Lisa Marquez and Rachel Bell appeared to defeat 20-year-old newcomer Sondra Ledsome for two board seats.  

 Marquez earned 610 votes, or 33 percent of those cast. Ledsome earned 522, or 28.2 percent, and Bell earned 699, or 37.8 percent. 

Bell, 38, of Tuolumne, has coached cheerleading, soccer and T-ball.

Marquez, 39, of Tuolumne, is the wife of Summerville Union High School District board incumbent-candidate David Marquez. She is a Girl Scout leader and member of Summerville Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Student Association.

A number of local school boards had members reach the end of their terms, but no contested races for the seats. 

In those instances, candidates who filed papers are simply joining each board without appearing on the ballot.

Districts with uncontested seats on their boards were the Tuolumne County Office of Education, Belleview School District, Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District, Jamestown School District, Sonora School District and Twain Harte-Long Barn Union School District.

Sonora Union High School District had an uncontested seat in the trustee area representing Sonora and Jamestown school districts. It will be kept by incumbent Jeanie Smith.

Seats at the Tuolumne County Office of Education will remain filled by incumbents Joseph von Herrmann, Juliana Feriani and Linda Millhollin. Sonora School District board member Don Rolle will join them on the county board.

Belleview’s seat will be kept by Nickolas Schader. Big Oak Flat-Groveland’s three seats are going to Gloria Marler and incumbents John Infelise and Paul Spring. Jamestown’s two seats will be filled by Aaron Moss and John Simnitt.

 Twain Harte-Long Barn Union School District’s seats will be filled by Elisha Wingo and incumbent Ken Scott.

Two board seats at Sonora School District will remain filled by incumbents Joyce Lupo and Mark Plummer. 

The district is seeking another board member to fill Rolle’s seat and will interview a candidate Thursday. 

Contact Brenna Swift at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 588-4529.