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Baraboo School District officials held the tax rate steady this year, even with local participation in the state school voucher program rising dramatically.

The Baraboo School Board approved a balanced $33.35 million 2018-19 budget after a public hearing and annual meeting Monday.

“Baraboo … has had one of the lowest mill rates in the (Badger North) conference for the past four years,” Director of Business Services Yvette Updike said. “We at Baraboo have been very stable.”

Property owners within the district will pay $9.25 per $1,000 of equalized property value in school-related taxes this year. That translates to a bill of about $1,387.50 for the owner of a $150,000 home.

While the rate remains the same as last year, the district’s total tax levy will increase by 4.11 percent from $15.05 million in 2017-18 to $15.67 million, caused mostly by new and remaining debt, including from the 2016 referendum for high school improvements, Updike said. Members of the district’s electorate at the meeting unanimously approved the local levy during the annual meeting that followed the public hearing.

This year’s budget is $1.4 million, or 4.4 percent, higher than last year’s $31.95 million budget. She said the increase largely reflects new grant dollars, such as two rounds of state safety grants awarded to the district in 2018. Per-pupil aid also increased, raising state contributions including grants by about 3 percent in the district.

Per-pupil aid is determined by a three-year membership average. Membership counts the number of students but adjusts for certain factors and is measured by full-time equivalency.

Despite Baraboo’s enrollment — the official student headcount is taken on the third Friday in September — increasing by 38 this year compared to last, membership counts have continued a slight downward trend. In 2016-17, the district had a membership of 3,008; this year, it’s at 2,960.

What’s not reflected in the membership count is the number of students who are using taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools participating in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. Baraboo lost 28 FTE to the voucher program this year, compared to 1.5 last year. Board Vice President Doug Mering said the change is likely due to Community Christian School of Baraboo opting in to the program for the first time.

Voucher funds are subtracted from the state general aid that would otherwise go to the public school district where the student resides, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Districts can compensate for the reduction in funds through a one-time exemption to the revenue limit, meaning they can increase their 2018-19 levy by the amount they will lose to vouchers.

Baraboo’s loss in membership accompanies an aid reduction of almost $221,000 — a roughly 2,000 percent jump from last year’s $11,300 — which the district is recouping through its tax levy. However, Updike said the district avoided affecting the tax rate by absorbing the difference within its debt payments.

The full board attended the annual meeting and budget hearing, along with 28 district residents and three non-residents, mostly consisting of district employees and students who presented during the regular board meeting that followed.

Residents are able to vote on resolutions at the annual meeting and unanimously approved the 2018-19 tax levy. They also approved school board members’ salary staying at $75 per meeting attended.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

Baraboo News Republic reporter