From: Arunas Statkus
Date: Wed, Jul 13, 2022 at 9:28 AM
To whom it may concern,
I Became a volunteer at Waters School Garden 15 years ago when I was walking by the garden one day and was drawn in by this improbably open and natural space in the middle of the dense city. I have since heard countless similar stories of how others discovered Waters.
Becoming a member of this community has been one of the most unexpected and best parts of my time in this neighborhood. When I purchased a home a decade ago, much of my decision was based on staying in this neighborhood and near this community.
What Pete Leki and the community have built and grown over the years is unique in the city, and the interface of the community and the school through the garden give both the school and the community strength. Community members who otherwise would not be involved in Waters enhance the school, and the community of gardeners and volunteers become stakeholders in the school community and genuinely care about what’s happening at Waters. Sure, we like to garden, but we also all believe in supporting the garden and the ecology program that have been growing in this space for 30+ years. We have all contributed countless hours over the years because we believe in this place and the vision behind it.
Any American would take a 30% pay cut as an insult and an invitation to quit. The former LSC member who spoke at the garden gathering on Saturday (July 9) offhandedly saying that setting Mr. Leki’s salary where they did seven years ago was a mistake just adds to the insult. The mistake to us is that you’re treating him so poorly now and not properly valuing this singular asset.
I’ve lived in Chicago long enough to see where this is going and it’s really sad to watch it unfold this way. I’m sure whatever you replace Mr. Leki with will be something, but I likely won’t stick around for it, and I believe many other garden volunteers won’t either, but I suspect that may be the point and the plan. It’s really unfortunate that you’re willing to shatter this unique bond with the community that’s been built over the decades. I’d imagine the ecology program will go forward in some diminished form and may again be something to celebrate, but it will not happen immediately and I suspect it will cost much more than the proposed cut of 30% from Mr. Leki’s salary.
After seeing how poorly prepared and equipped CPS was for the pandemic, perhaps more surprising than hearing that the ecology program was being defunded, was learning that CPS does not fully fund technology staff in the schools. Why are nonprofit groups raising money for something so essential as technology when it’s clear that being proficient in technology will only be more essential in the future? What future are you preparing these kids for? The LSC should be asking why pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan aren’t being invested to bolster technology in the schools, rather than debating cutting the ecology program. The money is apparently there, but sadly not being put to use.*
Finally, it was insulting as a member of the community to hear the LSC make the lazy and cynical insinuation that the garden needs to be brought under the school’s control because a teacher who was hired and vetted by CPS abused a student while he was a teacher at the school, under direct school supervision. It’s reprehensible to associate the garden volunteers with this ugly affair that the school was responsible for and clearly mismanaged. The LSC should apologize to the community for trying to tie the good that happens in the garden to the ugliness that they and the administration missed in the school. If you believe the garden needs to come under the school’s control, the very least you can do is be honest about why that is, but don’t drag the community into your lurid affairs.
* “Chicago Public Schools is flush with federal COVID-19 relief cash but is spending little of it;” WBEZ, March 24, 2022 – https://www.wbez.org/stories/chicago-public-schools-is-flush-with-federal-covid-19-relief-cash-but-is-spending-little-of-it/5709a19a-911e-4f74-a188-44a1274ac0a7
-Arunas Statkus, Waters Garden volunteer, concerned community member and confounded taxpayer