Education Austin calls for AISD board president to resign after 'poverty pimps' comment

"When someone refers to community as 'crazy community activists' and 'poverty pimps' this is unacceptable language for the very people that elected her to office," said Education Austin President Ken Zarifis on Wednesday 

Zarifis along with a number of other community advocates held a press conference at Austin ISD headquarters Wednesday morning urging board of trustees president Kendall Pace to

The group passed out copies of text messages Pace sent to another board member.  Pace was discussing AISD's efforts to create a "transformation zone," which Education Austin says means more resources for low income schools.

Education Austin says Pace texted the transformation zone grant would only get approved if a "charter-like" entity was set up that could "ignore the special interest groups and crazy ignorant community activists and poverty pimps."

"I think it's important that we have school board members that actually care about the district now, that cares about black and brown education now, that cares about the schools on the East side of 35 and I would bet my bottom dollar that when she's referring to 'poverty pimps' she's not talking about any school that can be seen on the West side of 35," Pace said.

Zarifis says Education Austin can take the insults...

"We get a lot of things leveled against us, that's alright, it's part of the job.  What we're concerned with is when they attack parents and teachers and neighborhood folks that are just working to make their schools better," Zarifis said.

The group is also accusing Pace of trying to make a backroom deal in the text messages.

"She was engaged in a conspiracy with TEA insiders to set up the programs and people she wanted without the light of public process," said parent Deb Trejo.

President Pace sent FOX 7 Austin a statement:

"A private text to a Board colleague was shared publicly. I will not make excuses for it, and I do acknowledge that it was unpolished. It was written in a passionate haste born out of frustration that we are not doing enough to close our equity gaps. I know it will create the appearance that is not representative of who I am as a leader in this community.   If I could do it over again I would choose my words differently.  
HOWEVER, it was from the heart and that stays true.  I have been consistent on the dais, in social media, in public and in private meetings speaking about my driving passion around academic excellence, and specifically how we can eliminate the achievement gaps that plague primarily our students of color from low income families. I have enough of a track record that my record speaks for itself.  I understand my comments will come under scrutiny. I want to be judged by my leadership and my work, my inquisitiveness, my pushiness to get results and better outcomes.  I have devoted my years on the Board and in my leadership role to this unwaveringly.  I realize my willingness to push for this meets resistance in many areas, but also gives a voice to many who go unheard and have long been ignored.

I am in out of town with one of my children who has special needs that I am tending to.  I regret that I can't be there in person to answer to allegations and statements.  So I want to clearly state my position now.  I challenge anyone who knows me as a person committed to public education improvement and specifically about bringing equity for our students, that I have different motives.  I am a problem solver and as such, I believe we must review our programs, curriculum, pedagogy, staff, partnerships, and parent/staff/student feedback to ensure we are delivering effective work and excellent customer service for our students and staff. I am deeply troubled that so many of our economically disadvantaged and black and brown students far underperform their whiter, wealthier peers on standardized and benchmark assessments, and are disproportionally represented in suspension data.  I do not accept that zip code or family income or skin color or inadequate funding as an excuse for continued achievement gaps.  We can and must to better to scale our successes.

I have never wavered in this focus and that was the reason my colleagues elected me President three times in the past two years.  I promised to push us to focus our work around student outcomes, to have courage to take on special interests, to review our data alongside the stories and to give voice to the majority who are not represented.  When we do that well, as I think we did, we support our Superintendent to do the right, heart and hard work for the benefit of our students.  I have been blessed to have the opportunity to listen to the stories of our Title 1 teachers and principals and community members across the district on what they believe works and what doesn't in their schools. I'm a problem solver.  Without blaming the inequities on things outside our control, we can solve many of our challenges with the limited resources that public education has to make our schools better places for our students and staff.  I will continue this work.  Thank you."