Support: Ellen Shepard

Dear Waters LSC members,
Below is a letter I sent to Principal Rutkowski. I hope that the outpouring of concern you’ve received from community members will prompt you to postpone your final decision on the budget and reconsider cuts to the ecology program.
I appreciate the time you dedicate as volunteers. As someone whose professional expertise is designing community engagement, I know that it’s frustrating to invest in an official process only to have people ask for changes after it is complete. However, the flood of input you’re receiving now is a good indication that the community input process didn’t sufficiently capture community
needs. Please take the time to ensure that the budget is serving the needs of the Waters community and neighborhood. Cutting Mr. Leki’s compensation appears to be an ill-advised choice, and it’s not too late to change course.
Thank you.
Ellen Shepard
———- Forwarded message ———
Hi Principal Rutkowski,
Thank you for reaching out directly. I live across the street from Waters and moved to the neighborhood in no small part because of the gardens. I have volunteered at the gardens and with the ecology program, and I care a great deal about both.
There’s much that concerns me about the proposed cut to Pete’s compensation and therefore to the gardens and ecology program. I was a longtime nonprofit executive director and currently consult on community development and nonprofit governance. I sympathize with the impulse to formalize Pete’s contract. What I question is how anyone could look at what Pete has built and
continues to nurture at Waters and not value it enough to fully resource it. I work in cities across the country, and the Waters School gardens and ecology program would be the envy of all of them.
If there are budget or contractual issues, I hope that you and the LSC can address them with Pete in the spirit of figuring them out together, with support and gratitude for all that he has created and mutual intention to sustain it. It’s been particularly surprising to see LSC members and others complain that Pete is framing the situation as the gardens being in trouble. A 30% cut in compensation can’t be seen as anything other than a vote of no confidence and an invitation for Pete to leave. Given his historic centrality to the health of the gardens, it seems clear that gardens’ future is not secure.
I once worked with an organization whose director had grown programs and staff with tremendous positive impact on the community they served. The board did an analysis of the director’s time and concluded that because there were more staff, they could cut the director’s salary. We brought in an HR consultant who asked the board, “Are you pleased with what the director has accomplished? Do you want it to continue?” When the board responded affirmatively, she asked, “Then what on earth are you thinking?” Fortunately, the board backed down. All of which is to say that the situation at Waters is not unprecedented. But it does need to be remedied.
Please know that I came into this issue without a horse in the race other than concern for the gardens. I’m not thus far in conversation with Pete or any of the groups on either side. My comments here are based on what I’ve seen in public forums, interpreted through my lens as a consultant in these areas. Best I can tell, the LSC is making a very bad choice. I hope that in reaching out for community input you’re still open to shifting your and their position.
Ellen Shepard
4533 N. Campbell Ave.