01 May 2024

David N. Cox - Teacher, Legislator, Statesman

My dad was into splitting the district before it was cool. 😎

I say that in jest, but with the recent news that several communities are going to be studying ballot initiatives to split Alpine School District into 2 or 3 new districts, I would like to take a moment to reflect on how we got here. I also wanted to take a personal moment to celebrate my dad, David N. Cox, who decades ago predicted that the day would come when:

  1. Bonds wouldn't pass in Alpine School District, and
  2. ASD would be forced to divide by the communities whose various needs weren't being met.

For over 30 years, David Cox was a beloved fifth grade teacher, especially at Lehi and Sego Lily Elementaries. Every year, instead of just lecturing about the American system of government, he had his class experience it by electing representatives, senators, and a president. Mr. Cox even dressed up as Thomas Jefferson to show them how the founding fathers felt it necessary to secede from Great Britain and create a separate, independent nation, where the local people could govern, instead of an executive ruling from across the ocean. For many of the students, those experiences developed a deep, lasting love for the freedoms we enjoy and the excruciating efforts it took to both bring them about and preserve them for generations.

Joining the Republican Party at a young age, David believed in the principles of limited, local government, the value of public education, and the responsibility of citizens to be involved and provide service when called upon. In 1998, the residents of Lehi called on him to serve in the Utah Legislature. He was hesitant, because it would require him to leave his family and students for several weeks during the legislative session, with most of his part time legislative compensation having to pay for a long term substitute teacher. But he knew that his experience as a public school teacher combined with his values as a common sense conservative were desperately needed on capitol hill.

As a legislator, Rep. Cox fought for more funding for public education and less mandates. He fought against taking diverting money it to private education through vouchers. On the transportation committee, he even sacrificed the home of his dreams to allow Pioneer Crossing to be built so the residents of Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain could have a faster route home than Lehi Main Street.

But the piece of legislation that was the largest investment for him was to help divide large school districts into smaller, more manageable ones. He had done extensive research on the subject and was passionate about the positive effects this could have for public education. This legislation enabled Canyons School District to divide from Jordan School District, which was the largest in the state. Today, both Canyons and Jordan are better able to pay for and care for their students, teachers and programs, and be more responsive to local residents.

Cox also supported various attempts from Lehi and Orem to form their own school districts. He knew there would be challenges, and being a teacher in the district himself, he knew that his own employment could be in a less secure position. But David Cox was a man of duty and integrity. He didn't make decisions based on what would benefit himself the most; he took a stand to do the right thing, even if it cost him personally – which it did, just not in the way he expected.

Unfortunately, various district administrators and board members over the years have mounted strong opposition, successfully thwarting every attempt to date. After 30+ years of teaching, Mr. Cox tearfully retired. Suspiciously, no school in Alpine School District would hire him again, even when facing a teacher shortage, likely because of his political positions. The silver lining was that this enabled him to pursue other teaching opportunities and spend more time with family.

As cancer took his health and eventually his life, he continued to advocate both for smaller schools and districts, as well as more education funding. In 2022, his last year, he supported both the effort to split the district AND to pass the bond to alleviate overcrowding. He surely would have been dismayed when the last bond attempt failed, had he lived to see it, even though he knew it would eventually happen.

Now those of us who live in Alpine School District have an important decision to make. Like our founding fathers, we can choose to forge a bold new path. We can choose local control and responsibility for our children's education. By creating smaller districts, we can choose to involve more parents and residents in the school boards and systems. We can make a meaningful difference in the lives of children who haven't even been born yet!

Let's get this over the finish line! Let's have the integrity of David N. Cox, a humble father, teacher, and statesman. Let's work together to create new, community-sized school districts that can help our students learn, grow, and face the challenges of the future.

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