Support: a Letter from David Walle

Letter from David Walle, submitted to the LSC, July 2022

Letter of support for Mr. Leki
We plan on attending tonight’s meeting but want to share our thoughts ahead of time. We hope a reasonable solution can be reached for all parties.
Nearly every day this past school year, I ate lunch with my daughter, then a second-grade Waters student, in the school garden. It became our sanctuary during a stressful time, as we desperately tried to protect our high-risk family from rolling waves of COVID outbreaks. In the garden, we watched the squirrels chase after falling acorns. We walked along the garden plots, studying the tracks in the snow. Mr. Leki was our daily companion, mending fences, repairing equipment, preparing for class outings. I marveled at the stamina of this driven but gentle soul, someone who always exchanged kind words with us before plunging back into his project for the day.
Four years ago, we moved to this neighborhood largely because of the East bank river trail and the Waters garden/ecology program. It was only later that we learned that Mr. Leki was largely responsible for developing and maintaining both.
After attending the 2 ½ hour garden meeting a couple weeks ago, I’m left with these takeaways:

  1. Mr. Leki has earned the support of a wide swath of the community. His expertise and neighborhood ties cannot be easily replaced, if at all.
  2. Gardens at other CPS schools tend to wither and die during the summer due to lack of coordination and commitment.
  3. The quality of Waters ecology field trips could suffer without being led by someone with his credentials.
  4. Pay-cut proponents view his previous pay level as a “mistake” but seem stunningly tone deaf by how insensitive this comes across – it implies that Mr. Leki wasn’t worthy of his previous salary.
  5. The purpose of his pay cut is not due to a lack of Waters funding (a new technology position with a $100K+ salary is being created this year). Instead, it’s driven by the desire to squeeze Mr. Leki into a line item in the CPS budget. This seems misguided to me, trying to fit this unique program into a prefabricated box. Maybe this myopic way of thinking has contributed to our current environmental crisis, since it’s easy to deemphasize things that are difficult to quantify.
    Pay-cut proponents insist that they still value Mr. Leki, his ecology program, and the Waters garden. But now they value him 20% to 30% less than they did last year. If improving the ecology program is the goal of the LSC and the principal, then why is the person responsible for this program getting such a large pay cut? If anything, we should devote more school resources to this program each year going forward, given the accelerating, tangible costs of climate change: the annual wildfires out West and now scattered across Europe, deadly heatwaves, and travel disruptions in London this week caused by concerns of buckling rail tracks and melting runways.
    If any one of us were faced with a 20% to 30% pay cut, we would either quit on the spot or immediately start looking for a new job. If any one of us were to single out one employee for a similar pay cut, would it be for any underlying reason other than to force that person’s resignation? The resentment that naturally arises from this kind of treatment creates lasting damage, making a future relationship untenable. Even if we somehow work this out, some of the damage has already been done.
    Invariably, the explanations for Mr. Leki’s pay cut descend into bureaucratic jargon, requiring mental gymnastics to explain it. The bottom line is that it’s a plan to defund the ecology program by reducing Mr. Leki’s salary. And it’s an insult to a crucial member of the community, someone who’s work brought my family to this neighborhood and has given us a place of refuge during possibly the most difficult period of our lives.
    David Walle