Mukwonago is facing what schools everywhere are facing, a shrinking enrollment. And it is not going to end anytime soon.

Generation Z, or whatever pundits will name it, is the group of kids behind the Millennial generation bubble, and it is dramatically smaller than the Millennials. And short of encouraging dramatic growth in new homes and apartments, there is little Mukwonago or anyone can do to change this sizable demographic shift. Across the globe, people are having few children, and America, and even Waukesha County, is not immune to the forces of this trend. The average age of the world is getting older and it will be awhile before that shift turns around.

On the surface, it should be easy for schools to adjust. Fewer children? Employ fewer teachers, right? And if you need fewer teachers, you need fewer classrooms. And if you need fewer classrooms, you need fewer schools. But all those things come at a cost. Laying off teachers and closing schools are some of the hardest things any district has to face. What makes the scenario even more challenging for schools is that the aid they get from the state is tied directly to enrollment. If you have increasing school population, you get more aid; if you have fewer children in class, you get less. So a shrinking population compounds schools' financial troubles.

Mukwonago schools, thanks to a voter-approved referendum in April, have another option, to raises taxes. State law allows district to exceed the caps on tax levy increases, if voters at the polls approve, and Mukwonago voters did in the last nonpartisan ballot. That effectively raised the cap and gives the district some breathing room for the next few years. For taxpayers, that means a modest increase in their tax bills, and the district is promising to maintaining the quality of the schools, at least in the short term while it has this cushion in place.

That is just how the legislature envisioned it. Decisions on out-of-the-ordinary increases in taxes should come from the voters, at the most grassroots level possible, Quality schools come at a price, but the ability of voters to withstand tax increases is not elastic. And that will be stretched to the breaking point even more so in the future as the aging population, increasingly living on fixed incomes and further from parenting age than ever, will become restive about further hikes.

Mukwonago has a reputation for fiscal conservatism in running its schools. That, coupled with its ideal location to take on new housing in the coming years, make this a wise bet for now. It kicks the can down the road far enough so that perhaps the economics will have changed in favor of growing enrollment again when all these Millennials start having children of their own and the numbers climb once more.

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