Teachers union urges Austin district president to resign over texts


Highlights

School board President Kendall Pace referred to community activists as “crazy ignorant” and “poverty pimps.”

Education Austin called the comments disparaging and asked for her to resign.

Pace had already planned to step down as president in June but to remain on the board.

The teachers union Education Austin on Wednesday demanded that Austin school board President Kendall Pace resign immediately after she said in a text message that a grant to fund struggling campuses would only get approved if officials “ignore the special interest groups and crazy ignorant community activists and poverty pimps.”

Pace, who was elected to the Austin Independent School District board in 2016, said she had planned to leave as president next month but remain on the board.

“We will elect new officers Monday. I had intended on stepping down in June anyway,” Pace told the American-Statesman.

Austin district officials said in a statement they respect Pace’s choice to step down and called the decision a personal one.

Documents obtained by the Statesman through an open records request show texts between Pace and Trustee Julie Cowan discussing the Texas Education Agency’s Transformation Zone Program, which would help struggling schools in Northeast Austin if district plans are approved.

In the texts, Pace said the district did not need money from the Transformation Zone Program. She said the district would only be considered for the program if its schools were set up like charters, “i.e. one with balls to ignore the special interest groups and crazy ignorant community activists and poverty pimps,” Pace said, acknowledging the program did come with additional funding.

Education Austin President Ken Zarifis called the text exchange “disturbing” and, at a news conference outside Austin school district headquarters downtown, urged Pace to resign from the school board.

“We are deeply saddened by the fact that a board president would actually attack the very community that elected her to this board,” Zarifis said.

The Austin district was awarded $446,681 in January through the Transformation Zone Program to develop a plan on how best to help six elementary and two middle schools. Pace said that if the education agency determines the district’s plans to be suitable, each campus could receive as much as $1 million over two years.

Pace in an emailed statement said the text messages were “written in a passionate haste borne out of frustration that we are not doing enough to close our equity gaps.”

“I will not make excuses for it, and I do acknowledge that it was unpolished,” she said.

Drew Scheberle, vice president of education for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said Pace wanted to ensure “the strongest organizations were chosen” for underperforming schools.

“She thought she was having a private conversation with a fellow trustee,” said Scheberle, who said he has known Pace for a decade.

Scherberle said the district and the union had bigger issues to focus on than the text exchange. 

“They really need to be trusting one another,” he said, citing issues involving the district’s budget.

Representatives from the Austin Justice Coalition, Austin Voices for Education and Youth, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment and district parents echoed Zarifis’ concerns about Pace, and asked the board member to step down.

“When you’re using language such as, ‘poverty pimps’ and ‘crazy activists,’ it also shows and reflects that you don’t really respect the community’s input and opinions when it comes to the outcomes that we want to see in the school district,” said Chas Moore, executive director for the Austin Justice Coalition.

Austin Voices Director Allen Weeks, whom Pace called one of the “grubbers asking for money” to help low-income schools in her texts, said that Pace should find another way of volunteering and supporting the community.

Zarifis said he was “stunned” by Pace’s response to the text messages, saying she never apologized for the disparaging language.

“They were crude and wrong, and she needed to apologize,” he said. “That just reinforces our belief that she has no place on this board.”



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