BERKELEY -- The school board must appoint a new member by May 17 to fill outgoing President Leah Wilson's seat or pay for a costly special election, members said in a special meeting Wednesday night.

Wilson is resigning from the five-member board effective March 31 to take a job as the Court Executive Officer of the Alameda County Superior Court. She said she cannot continue in her position on the school board because of a potential conflict of interest.

Co-superintendent Neil Smith said Wednesday that rules in Berkeley's city charter, state education law and the California constitution say a new member must be appointed within 60 days of a board member's resignation. If the board fails to appoint in 60 days, a special election would be held which would cost between $300,000 and $750,000, Smith said.

The appointment will last through Nov. 30, 2014, he added.

Board members will finalize a process to appoint the new member at its March 27 meeting. But they tentatively agreed Wednesday night to have applications due to the superintendent's office by 4 p.m. April 15. After the March 27 board meeting applications will be available online on the school district's website, said district spokesman Mark Coplan.

A list of candidates who apply for the job will be available to the public April 19, Coplan said.

"The entire board probably will create a list of applicants they want to advance to the interview stage and present that list to the public by April 24," Coplan said.

Berkeley resident Julie Holcomb, who lost in the 2010 election to current board members Wilson, Josh Daniels and Karen Hemphill with about 15 percent of the vote, was at the Wednesday night meeting and said she is considering applying. It is not yet clear who else will apply.

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.