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Name: Robert Cox
District where seeking a trustee seat: New Rochelle
Civic and school board experience:
I have attended well over 150 board meetings and actively participated in those meetings. I am well-known across New Rochelle for my participation in community meetings and City Hall.
At school board meetings I have been a relentless champion for greater transparency such as airing board meetings on television, publishing to the district web site documents such as orders of meeting agendas, business, resolutions, school budgets, audited financials, powerpoint presentations and video.
I have often been the catalyst for positive change in the school system, working with school officials, board members and community leaders to raise awareness and solve problems to create a culture of accountability within our public schools, focused on serving the needs of students and their families.
Behind the scenes, I have worked with board members and administrators to create and advance initiatives like the financial advisory committee, a recently adopted diversity policy and to foster greater transparency at school board meetings while helping to amicably resolve parent complaints at the school and central office level.
A proposal from my 2011 school board campaign, I worked with the board to bring forward the idea of a financial advisory board which resulted in a series of thoughtful recommendations on cost-saving and budget-transparency
measures. Known today as the Community Advisory Committee, I worked behind the scenes to foster the idea, craft the implementation and, in the case of the original 2012 report, submit many of the recommendations contained in
the final report.
I have been at the forefront of the effort to raise awareness among the school community of the potential for a negative outcome of a long-sought tax abatement based on dubious projections of the number of school-age children who will reside in the Echo Bay Development. I urged the board to break with tradition and get directly involved with this municipal initiative. The resulting board statement calling for the district to be “made whole” under any tax abatement was directly influenced by his board advocacy.
To mark the 49th Anniversary of the Lincoln School desegregation case, I edited and published an 8-part series on the history of the Lincoln School case, one year before the 50th Anniversary of the Kaufman decision. I met with the leadership of the association of black churches in New Rochelle, the President of the N.A.A.C.P. and other leaders in the African-American community. I appeared before the school board to inform them of the
upcoming event, of which they were unaware, and urged them to properly mark the occasion of the 50th Anniversary on January 24, 1961. These efforts initiated the year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary in our schools.
I have been involved in youth sports for many years. I devoted significant time for years as the Commissioner of the AYSO Soccer Program which I greatly expanded by creating accommodative youth sports programming for children with specific needs (e.g. developmentally disabled, religiously observant, ELL). I worked collaboratively with then-SEPTA President, and current school board President, Chrisanne Petrone and Michael Turek of Young Israel of New Rochelle, among others.
As a winning coach in both little league and softball, I spent many hours working with youngsters to master their first organized team sport driven by my belief that teams win by devoting more time and attention to their struggling players than praising and admiring their star performers.
I have donated time and resources to develop and manage numerous community web sites and social media platforms including the NAACP New Rochelle Branch, the Chamber of Commerce of New Rochelle, the New Rochelle Save Our Armory Committee, Habitat for Humanity for Westchester, the United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Society and many more. I have been an instructor at the New Rochelle Public Library teaching a course on social media and web-based publishing.
Dr. Maria Suarez-Cox, his wife of 27 years, has worked in the special education field for over 25 years, the last 15 in New Rochelle.
She is on the faculty of Columbia University Teachers College.
Prior to working in New Rochelle she was a special education teacher at the Mount Pleasant Cottage School and Greenburgh 11 School for children residing at the Children’s Village and has been an adjunct professor of special education at Marymount College, College of New Rochelle, DePaul University and Marymount Manhattan.
The Cox’s two older children, Elena and Owen, are successful graduates of New Rochelle High School. Elena graduated from SUNY-Binghamton and now works for Gannett in upstate New York. Owen will graduate this month from the University of Notre Dame where he majored in Arabic Language and Culture. While in college he interned with the Brooklyn District Attorney and spent 8 months study abroad in London and Amman, Jordan. He is pursuing a career in government service working in the Intelligence community.
Collins and Micaela are currently enrolled at New Rochelle High School and Albert Leonard Middle School respectively. Micaela is currently on the High Honor roll at Albert Leonard and loves to plays Lacrosse. Collins is on the Science Olympiad team and will intern with Mr. May in the Young Engineers program at Albert Leonard.
The Cox family is a member of Holy Name Parish in New Rochelle.
How long lived in the District:
Cox has lived in the City School District of New Rochelle since 1994, 19
MBA, University of Chicago
BA, University of Notre Dame
Diploma, Iona Preparatory School
1. Why are you running for school board trustee and what qualifies you for the position?
I am running for school board trustee because I believe that I am the person best qualified to fill the position. I have devoted the past five years, the length of a full term on the board to researching and investigating the school district.
During that time I have attended almost every school board meeting, well over 150 meetings. I have a deep and comprehensive understanding the issues facing the school district and have compelling ideas on how to address them. I come at the job of board member with a demonstrated track record of bringing about positive change for the school district and I would like to continue that as a board member over the next five years.
2. What do you see as the top three challenges facing your school district?
There are two issue facing the school district which the board has been grappling with over the several years that are among the top three challenges facing the New Rochelle school district.
First, what had been a looming financial crisis has begun to hit home. For several years the district was shielded from the full impact of the Great Recession. With the end of federal stimulus funds and the recently imposed tax levy cap. We are now in the crisis I have been warning about since 2010. When we are firing teachers right out of the classroom that is the very definition of a financial crisis for a public school system.
Second, school safety and security has been a significant problem largely ignored by the board for over a decade. In many ways, the school district has been in flagrant violation of the New York Project SAFE Law. Signed into law in the wake of the Columbine massacre, the school district has not updated its building-level safety plans since 2002. Employees have been hired without required fingerprinting and background checks. The U.S. Department of Justice recently widened its investigation into wholesale violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act after the school left two wheel-chair bound students behind during a fire incident last January. Security guards have been allowed to work without requiring training and licenses. Even after the Sandy Hook tragedy last December the district is still not in compliance with New York State law regarding school safety and security.
There is a third issue which the board has largely ignored and that is the deplorable state of the on-time graduation rate for minority students in our high school. All of our public school students meet up at New Rochelle High School in their academic career. What happens along the way before they arrive impacts the overall learning environment at the high school and is thus a concern for all students and parents.
If we want to address the minority graduation rate issue we need to support struggling students before they get to high school. A majority of those struggling minority students who are not graduating (on time or at all) are coming from Isaac E. Young Middle School.
An improved Isaac Young has ripple effects throughout the community starting with the students, the parents and then the broader community with a positive impact on South End property values and a balancing of the tax load borne by residential property owners in the North End.
I have made a commitment during this campaign that if elected I will make restoring Isaac Young a personal priority.
3. With respect to school district finances, are there any specific initiatives you would pursue to save money or reduce expenses? (If you are an incumbent, please tell us what specific initiatives you have supported in this regard.)
As noted above, I was responsible for creating what is today known as the Community Advisory Committee. I worked behind the scenes to foster the idea, craft the implementation and, in the case of the original 2012 report, submit many of the recommendations contained in the final report.
The 2012 report was based on over a year of research and analysis of 10 years of budget documents and audited financials and contained numerous recommendations to bring about permanent cost reductions and make the budget document itself easier to understand for the average resident.
Among the many recommendations contained in the report, I would highlight two to illustrate the point:
1. Biometric Time and Attendance Systems — the district track hours using a paper-based system that requires manual processing by the finance office. The system is highly inefficient and ripe for abuse. The school district has now way to know which of its employees are reporting to work on time, working a full day or entitled to overtime pay. From a security stand point, the district is not tracking which of its employees are in or out of a particular building at a given time. Both the district’s financial auditors and security auditors have recommended biometric time and attendance systems.
2. GPS Tracking and Inventory Control Systems — the district has no system in place to keep track of millions of dollars worth of equipment and supplies opening up the district to misappropriation of school district equipment and theft. There have been numerous examples of both and one arrest after an investigation by the Westchester County District Attorney based, in part, on my reporting.
4. What is your assessment of the school district’s academic offerings? What do you see as the school district’s strengths and weaknesses? How would you, if at all, reorder priorities?
What is your assessment of the school district’s academic offerings? What do you see as the school district’s strengths and weaknesses? How would you, if at all, reorder priorities?
The academic offerings in the school district are excellent. In addition to traditional academic offerings, the district has an array of language programs including Mandarin and Italian CILA, specialized programs in technology, engineering, finance, computer programming and architecture to name a few. The course listings for the high school reads like a college bulletin.
The district’s strength is having not just these programs but wonderful, passionate educators like Steve May, Darren Guerney, Gail Guttman, Mered Kopstein, Michael Hilderbrand, and many others. There are so many more but these are a few of those my children have been fortunate enough to have as their teachers.
And I had better include my wife, Dr. Maria Suarez-Cox 🙂
One area of weakness is the discrepancy in elite programs like PAVE and Kaleidoscope which are not as geographically or demographically diverse as they might be. Another is the dearth of minority students in AP and Honors classes which played a direct role in New Rochelle falling out of the Newsweek High School rankings after many years as one of the top schools in the nation in this magazine ranking.