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As Mukwonago Area School District officials wait for final figures from the state on Oct. 14, the district is looking at an increase in the school tax rate for the first time in five years, after passing an April referendum.

With the approval of the $49.5 million referendum for improvements at Mukwonago High School, the preliminary budget for the 2016-17 school year shows a projected tax rate increase of 30 cents, potentially coming in at $9.07 per $1,000 of assessed value, compared to $8.77 for the 2015-16 school year, according to Director of Business Services Tom Karthausser

This would mean a property valued at $250,000 could potentially pay about $2,267 in school taxes for the 2016-17 school year compared to $2,192 in 2015-16. That reflects a projected increase of about $75 in school taxes per year, according to Karthausser.

Mukonago Area School District Superintendent Shawn McNulty reminded those at the annual meeting on Sept. 26 of the board's history of fiscal responsibility.

"I hope people's memories are not too short and they recall that this school board had worked very hard for the previous five years, worked very hard for a number of years, but the previous five years we had a declining tax levy," McNulty said.

Out of 50 districts in southeast Wisconsin, Mukwonago was one of five kindergarten through grade 12 districts, that had a declining tax levy in the past five years, McNulty added.

While Karthausser anticipates that the district will receive about $18.7 million in state aid this year -  an increase of $1 million from the previous year - state aid is still "$7 million lower than they once gave us," he said.

Resident student enrollment is one of the factors affecting state aid. For nearly eight years, resident student enrollment has declined, but this year the count has risen by 10 students, according to Karthauser. In 2015-16 MASD had 4,573 resident students for revenue limit purposes, compared to 4,583 for 2016-17.

Open enrollment continues to show Mukwonago is a "destination school district," Karthausser said. Mukwonago has seen steady increases in students using open enrollment to attend schools in the district since 2009.

In 2015-16 and 2016-17, MASD had more than 450 open enrollment students in the district and more than 200 open enrollment students depart, for a net positive open enrollment of more than 240 students. In 2008-09, MASD showed a net negative open enrollment of 29 students.

With resident enrollment bottoming out, and open enrollment staying strong, the district finalized the first part of its long-term borrowing. Wiht a strong bond rating, increased state aid, and great interest rates, the district reduced the total 20-year financing cost by more than $20 million from original projections.

"That's very good for our long-term outlook, ' Karthausser pointed out.

Additionally, the district is set to pay off its short-term debt three years early, which will save more than $89,000 in interest costs.

"We have a great record in our district of being fiscally responsible, great stewards of the taxpayer's dollars," said McNulty.

The 2016-17 budget will be finalized once figures are received from the state.

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