Op-Ed: Investing in our Schools is great for Cedar Hill

Justin Schaefer

By Justin Schaefer, First Vice Chair, Cedar Hill Chamber of Commerce

The world has been anything but calm and predictable the last few years. As a business owner in Cedar Hill, I still remember the day that Covid lockdowns and limitations on public gatherings took place and I had to try to understand if I could even open my business and if my employees would risk legal penalties for coming to work. As we learned to navigate the pandemic, we all wanted life to return to normal, or at least some sort of new normal.  Instead, it has been one challenge after another. Labor markets have been volatile as companies compete for employees, the housing market has seen unprecedented growth making home valuation increase at rates that nobody anticipated, interest rates have been steadily climbing making the cost of borrowing a challenge for many individuals and businesses and the list could go on and on.

Regardless, if you are managing a business budget or your personal finances, I think we have all felt the squeeze as prices have gone up. As a business owner this has required increasing the pay to my employees quicker than originally forecasted so that they can afford the new higher prices. Our vendors that supply parts to our company have also needed to increase their costs to us and in order to pay all these additional costs we have, in turn, needed to increase pricing to our customers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has a tool on their website that allows you to put in a start date with a dollar amount as well as an end date and, using data from the Consumer Price Index (CPI), it will calculate how much money you need at the end date to have the same buying power as the year you started. Using this tool, I decided to enter September 2020 as a start date and $100. The tool reported back that in September of 2023 I would need $118.25 to have the same buying power that I would have had 3 years ago. Interestingly, the same test for the preceding 3 years (2017-2020) resulted in a difference of only $5.45.

As difficult as it has been to navigate all these changes there are organizations that have faced all these challenges without the flexibility to respond to markets in the same way that the rest of us have been able to. One of these organizations is our public school system. Schools across the state of Texas have been struggling to compete as wages and costs of living have increased at unexpected rates. Businesses have been competing for the same individuals who traditionally would seek employment at our schools. Because businesses are better equipped to adapt to market conditions, they have been successful at offering competitive compensation that is very attractive to these individuals.  As a result, school districts have struggled to attract the right candidates, enough candidates and have faced high turnover rates. Many Districts have passed deficit budgets because the expense to competitively run the schools exceeds the funds they are allocated. Cedar Hill ISD is not immune to these challenges.

I have had the opportunity to serve on the Mayors Committee on Education and have spent many hours learning about the finances of the Cedar Hill ISD as well as the formulas used by the State to calculate funding for the school districts. Unfortunately, it has become very apparent that despite the very complicated funding formulas implemented by the State, they simply were not designed to adjust to the kind of conditions we have experienced. The school’s dollars can no longer buy what they once could and the financial squeeze is translating to some real challenges. In addition to these unfavorable economic conditions, there are new safety requirements in place to help make our schools safer. Schools are required to have a safety officer at each campus. We want and need these safety officers at our school campuses and state law mandates the school district to comply with these requirements. Unfortunately, the timing only further amplifies the current financial challenges when figuring out how these new safety officer positions are to be funded.

The State has provided very few tools for communities to increase school funding but one way that we can provide some additional funding to the Cedar Hill School District is by passing a Voter-Approval Tax Rate Election or VATRE. This November the Citizens of Cedar Hill will have the opportunity to vote on Prop A in support of the VATRE for additional funding for Cedar Hill ISD. As a member of the community of Cedar Hill I am proud that there has been so much community support for the VATRE. I am proud of our city council for passing a resolution in support of the Cedar Hill ISD calling for a VATRE this November. I am proud that the Cedar Hill Chamber of Commerce passed a motion in support of the VATRE. These organizations recognize that a financially healthy school district is better positioned to provide our students with the education that will help our current and future generations to prosper.

So many aspects of our community are intertwined with the success of our schools. We have great servant leadership in this community that work daily to make Cedar Hill the wonderful place that it is and to try to continually make it better.  As we provide our school district with the funding they need we will be better positioned to attract more businesses and a greater diversity of businesses to Cedar Hill. This will create better jobs for our community as well as help shift some of the tax burden from the residential taxpayers to the new businesses that move here. This shifting of the taxes has the potential to lower the tax burden on the citizens in the long run. Passing the VATRE alone is not the complete solution to every challenge facing our school district, but it is the next critical step on our path of success.

While we have all faced some tough challenges these last few years I believe in “playing the long game” and that means investing now in our children, in our teachers, and in our schools so that we can see the results we want in the future. For those of us concerned about taxes, and I think that is everyone, the good news is that even if the VATRE passes the school tax rate will still decrease this year when compared to historical rates. So, let’s all rally together and support our community and our schools by voting to pass Prop A this November.