Local PTA Council revitalizes local ecosystem while redistributing funds
The Evanston/Skokie 65 School District is more reliant on parent-teacher funds than people realize. This year, the Evanston/Skokie Council of PTAs, the umbrella association for all school PTAs in the areas served by Districts 65 and 202, is hosting a native plant sale that will benefit all Evanston students and ecosystems.
The PTA Equity Project (PEP) is a subcommittee of the PTA Board created to strategically intervene in the PTA fundraising gaps among Evanston schools that result from differences in disposable income in neighborhoods across the town. Selling plants native to this area of northern Illinois is part of PEP’s One Fund initiative, which generates funds that are evenly distributed among schools.
The plants on sale are beneficial to native bees, butterflies, caterpillars and birds, whose populations have plummeted due to major loss of grassland habitat in Illinois, according to local conservationists and the mother of the PTA, Lauren Marquez-Viso.
“The plants selected are very specific to [this] and represent many species that have gone extinct over time,” she said.
Marquez-Viso, whose son attends Dewey Elementary School, is a new PEP volunteer. She is also Vice Chair of the Board of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to making Evanston more environmentally sustainable.
The PTA Equity Project
The PTA Council is “a collaborative space where we brainstorm, problem solve and share ideas,” said Council Vice Chair Erin Sacluti, who has three children enrolled in Evanston Schools.
Established in 2016, PEP seeks to ensure that all students in the district have the same access to PTA initiatives, programming and enrichment, regardless of the school they attend, Sacluti said. .
Schools with less disposable income need extra funds for after-school programs, field trips, teacher support, yearbooks and more. Many APEs have been able to fundraise for expenses such as playgrounds and school libraries, while APEs at other schools do not have the financial leeway to consider these projects. A look at the PTA budgets for the 2016-2017 school year reveals that funding per student ranged from $32 to $286, depending on the school.
COVID-19 exposed inequities in PTA funds
Sacluti said COVID-19 revealed “big inequities” when schools needed to buy technology and “not all schools had laptops or iPads for everyone.”
District 65 and 202 PTAs have voted to donate their set aside accounts, or portions thereof, to meet food, technology, gas, and other resource needs in the district.
“Each school had a different need, but they were able to [meet them] of everyone coming together,” Sacluti said.
Since its inception two years ago, the One Fund initiative has continued to receive pooled resources from APEs and then redistribute them equitably to APEs in each school to use at their discretion.
The sale of native plants is now taking place
PEP hopes the sale of the plant will help revitalize the natural local ecosystem while injecting money into the PTA’s reserves. The sale includes select native wildflowers, grasses, sedges, shrubs and trees. PEP chose the plants in conjunction with growers at Possibility Place, an Evanston-based nursery that specializes in native plants.
While the plants are meant for the outdoors, “you can cut some of them off and bring them in for bouquets or displays,” Marquez-Viso said.
Marquez-Viso said many of these grassland plants grow very deep and will sequester rainwater and help improve soil health resilience. So far, PEP has sold over $13,000 worth of plants and received many plant donations.
The fundraising presale will continue until March 14 and the plants will be available for purchase until Saturday May 14. The location of the sale is yet to be determined.
“In this urban-suburban environment, we can really make a difference…whether it’s in our schoolyards, our own homes or apartment buildings,” Marquez-Viso said. “Every little patch of land is so essential to revitalizing the natural ecosystem here and…creating a healthier environment for everyone.”