There will be four seats open on the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 school board during the April 4, 2017 election and Oak Park Public Library Trustee Board President Matt Baron, 48, said he plans on filling one of them.
Baron, who has served on the library board for one term, said he planned on running for reelection in 2017. He's since changed his mind.
"Over the past year I have actively encouraged individuals — particularly, in light of the historic lack of ethnic diversity on the board, African-Americans — to consider pursuing library trustee seats," Baron said.
"Earlier this month, it became clear that my outreach had led to at least four well-qualified individuals, including three African-Americans, planning to run for library trustee," he added. "At that point, confident in the library board's positive direction, I began exploring other opportunities to serve in public office."
Baron, a married father of two children whose has lived in Oak Park since 1994, said his 13-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, will be entering OPRF next year and that the "timing is right to shift my service from the Oak Park Public Library Board of Trustees to the D200 Board."
The Boston native, who owns and operates a PR company, spent nearly 20 years as a print journalist, freelancing for publications such as the Chicago Tribune and Time magazine. He said he'll leverage his communications skills to offer "an inclusive, collaborative and creative approach to the many issues facing the high school."
"For nearly 20 years, on subjects spanning math, journalism, interpersonal communication, public relations, leadership and relationship-building, I have been a frequent guest speaker in classrooms ranging from grade schools to graduate-level college classes," Baron said. "I also bring a lifelong passion for education and its potential to impact individuals, communities and the world in powerful ways."
Along with his seat on the library board, Baron is also an active member of Harvest Bible Chapel Chicago West in Austin, a member of the Oak Park and River Forest Chamber of Commerce and host of two local cable channel talk shows.
The seats of D200 board president Jeff Weissglass, in addition to board members Jackie Moore, Steve Gevinson and Tom Cofsky are all up for grabs in April.
So far, Baron is the first candidate to publicly announce plans to begin the process of filing to run for the high school board. Candidates have until December 19 to file petitions for next year's consolidated election.
The recent swimming pool referendum, narrowly defeated by voters, will likely be at the center of the high school race. The ballot measure asked voters to approve a $44.5 million, five-year facilities plan that would be paid with up to $25 million in referendum bonds. The remaining $20 million was to have come out of the district's fund balance.
The plan, approved unanimously by the school board in August, called for demolishing the village-owned, 300-space garage and constructing an estimated $21.4 million, 25-yard by 40-meter swimming pool, in addition to a roughly 240-space new parking garage, on the site of the old one. The high school would also have expanded performing arts and learning spaces, and renovate classroom space, on campus.
Baron, who said that he voted no on the referendum, noted that he believed the board's approved plan was "far too expensive in light of all of the school's need. I was opposed to the demolition of the parking garage, among other concerns."
He also expressed optimism that, despite the "community fatigue" over the pool issue, "an even better solution" would be found over time.