Perry school board approves non-binding search for new conference

District impoverishment causes unequal opportunities

The Raccoon River Conference, as currently constituted. Gilbert and North Polk will join the league in August. On Monday, Perry officials received district permission to explore the possibility of Perry leaving the league.

The PCSD Board of Education gave approval Monday for PHS principal Dan Marburger and Activities Director Tom Lipovac to begin a search for a possible new conference home for Perry High’s extra curricular activities.

Perry is currently a member of the Raccoon River Conference (RRC). Other RRC schools include ADM, Ballard, Bondurant-Farrar, Boone, Carlisle, Carroll and Winterset. Gilbert and North Polk will begin competing in the conference this August.

Board President Kyle Baxter, Vice President Linda Andorf and Director Jim Lutmer voted 3-0 to move ahead with the process. Directors Kenia Alarcon and Casey Baldwin were absent.

The approval allows Perry to look into a possible realignment but is non-binding. Any move would require numerous additional steps and would not affect the upcoming season.

Perry has not been competitive in the RRC, with the exception of both soccer teams, for several seasons.

One of the arguments made in favor of switching conferences was based on economic factors. While Perry is the second-largest school in the RRC in terms of enrollment, it is by far the poorest school in the conference and has the largest number of students facing financial hardships.

Those challenges, Marburger and Lipovac said, limit opportunities for students and create disadvantages — in terms of personal equipment purchases, camp attendance, additional instruction, the need to work part-time and other factors — that Perry students face much more than the teams they compete against face.

The starkest example of such disparity can be found in the percentage of K-12 students qualifying for free or reduced lunches.

According to state numbers from the 2018-2019 school year, Perry had a total enrollment of 1,676 students, of whom 74.4% qualified for free/reduced lunch assistance. That percentage was fourth-highest in Iowa, trailing only Postville (all 715 of their students receive such aid), the Des Moines public schools (77.7%) and LuVerne (77.4%), with Marshalltown (74.2%) fifth. LuVerne’s numbers are K-5 only because students in 6-12 attend Algona.

Perry’s percentage is in stark contrast to the other RRC schools, of which Boone (46.1%) has the highest rate. Others include Carroll (42.9%), Carlisle (35.5%), Winterset (32.5%), ADM (20%), B-F (19.3%) and Ballard (18.2%). August newcomer North Polk is at only 10.9%, while Gilbert is tied with Solon, at 9.5%, as the lowest in Iowa.

While Perry will look at other nearby conferences, there is no assurance any of those leagues would be open to accepting Perry, who would be the largest school in any nearby league.

The best choice might be the Heart of Iowa, especially as Gilbert and North Polk will be gone. The HOIAC includes one-time RRC members Greene County (44.7%), Nevada (33.1%) and Saydel (58.8%). Other schools include PCM (24.1%), Roland-Story (23%) and South Hamilton (32.2%), with West Marshall (32%) returning to the league for the next school year.

Surrounding school district numbers, for comparison, include Panorama (38.1%), Madrid (27.8%), Ogden (24.9%), Woodward-Granger (24.9%) and DC-G (17.3%).


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