SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEMBER BLASTS
SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION ON WEBSITE AND TV AND COULD BE CENSURED
Imagine you are considering moving to our area. You do a google search for information on the Stoughton Public Schools. It takes you to a site where you find links to “BB Guns in school”, “The School Administration on the Wrong Side of the Law”, “MSBA’S Rejection of Stoughton School applications”, “A poor 2012 review of Superintendent”, “How Stoughton plays Russian Roulette with State Local Aid Money”, “School Committee Misconduct”, “Open Meeting Law Violations” and more. Would you be eager to enroll your children? Would you move to Stoughton? Who would post such things? The answer may surprise you. The site is owned and administered by School Committee member Dr. Erdem Ural, an explosives expert, who has bombed with the rest of the Committee and the Stoughton School’s administration.
Stoughton has an award-winning band, sports teams that have gone on to the post-season, award winners in art and writing, and a graduating class that has gone on to outstanding schools in many cases (my daughter graduated last year and attends the University of Delaware.) Is there anything positive about the Stoughton schools on Ural’s website? Not a single word. So, are we to assume that our children are getting a horrid education? Should we shutter the schools and start again?
Ural said I misunderstood his website. He wrote Snyder’s Stoughton, “ First of all, there are, of course, lots of great things happening in Stoughton Schools. Those are highlighted in the official school web pages, and local press. However, it is important to understand that my site does not offer any NEWS about anything. ”
So, what does it offer? Ural explains that, “The purpose of the web site is not to be an all- inclusive source of information on schools. Instead, it is there to make certain documents available to the interested members of the public free of charge. The superintendent tried to block my access to certain public documents, and even charged me money when she was ordered by the state to provide them. I do not want the members of the public to also get abused when and if they need the information readily available on the site. Note that the content of the website is strictly comprised of a bunch of public records, without any editorializing. The documents provided on the site do not reflect badly on our schools, and our children. Some of them might reflect badly on our administration for not doing its job properly, or abusing it. I take the time to post documents there with the hopes of eventually improving the ethics and the transparency of the School District Administration.”
As far as editorializing, the site actually contains email threads of his communications with fellow members, as well as letters written by him, challenging the School Committee. He has reported the Committee on numerous occasions for violations of the Open Meeting law, and the Attorney General has ruled for him a few times, chastising the School Committee. In that way, his voice was heard and had an impact.
According to School Committee Chair Deb Sovinee, Dr. Ural’s complaints have cost taxpayers over $16,000 to defend, so far. Urol said “that there are so many entries I don’t know what to make of it. Some of these-- like the March 19, 2012 entry--were prompted by someone else’s complaint. I was also off the school committee from April 2011 to April of 2012, yet there are number of billings during that time. They charged a lot of things to me that I had nothing to do with it. But, there would be no expenses if they didn’t break the law.”
School Committee Vice Chairman Joyce Husseini said that, “The documents on his site are almost all in his words. They ARE editorial in nature.” She added, “I was Chair for only two months with him on the committee. I issued a letter of reprimand on May 29, 2012 on the advice of the Mass Association of School Committees. He was reprimanded for grossly inappropriate and unprofessional actions and statements. His emails had a lot of threats and name calling in them. The harm he’s doing is everlasting and hurts the town. We can all fight back, or we can give up. People may not move here or send their children to school here because of it.”
Sovinee told me, “He is a rogue member of the school committee. His website is one-sided. The requests he made were as a parent, not as a school committee member. The main problem is that he has the capacity to do lasting damage to the town’s greatest asset—our school system. He has not had one positive idea that he has proposed in his time on the Committee. I have a collection of two and a half pages of single-spaced legal charges for his complaints. I had to remove him from the bargaining unit because he was giving away collective bargaining strategies. We have to safeguard the public’s trust. He has undermined their trust. He called the West School principal a liar in an email he sent to all the other principals and the press. At the time, she was in Washington D.C. picking up an award as one of the top 100 elementary principals in the country. She had simply repeated what the police had told her about a toy gun incident.”
Ural said he heard about the gun rumors from parents, and “five hours after I inquired with the Superintendent, the West School principal sent a reverse-911 call, denying it was a BB gun. She could have said there was a gun, but it was just a toy gun. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Ural has accused the School Committee’s attorney of “conflict of interest” (Regina Williams Tate, the attorney, wrote, “I have practiced law, representing public bodies for more than 34 years. Never have I been accused of conflict of interest.”) Ural charged former School Committee member Eric Milgroom with assault, after he pounded a water bottle on the table to make a point (soaking former interim Supt. of Schools Anthony Sarno.) On that incident, School Committee member Tom Colburn said, “It was nothing. It had to be dealt with by the police—completely frivolous. I never understood it.”)
Colburn says that he figured that Dr. Ural was bright and encouraged him to run for school committee. He tells Snyder’s Stoughton, “He’s always looking for conspiracies and seeing the worst in people, and makes harsh unfounded allegations. I think he is out to attract attention. I’ve worked effectively for nine years with everyone--except him. His energy is misguided and counter-productive to the community. In a public meeting, during interviews for interim superintendent, he said that Mr. Sarno was ‘kind of old.’ You can’t make comments like that. We were open to an age discrimination suit if we hadn’t hired him for the position.”
In addition, Colburn said he found Ural’s recent allegations of perjury, which he made on the Dick Murphy show, to be outrageous, adding, “I had negotiated Dr Rizzi's contracts when she was our assistant superintendent, as well as when she was superintendent. There was a typographical error in her superintendent contact which had erroneously stated that she would be paid $150 per year for car expense allowance instead of $150 per month. When Erdem noticed the error he demanded Dr Rizzi return the over paid amount. I explained that we had agreed upon the amount in good faith (the same as Clare McCarthy had received) and that I would never take advantage of an employee because of a clerical error. Erdem saw that the contract had been signed by Allan Mills and said that I did not negotiate it. I explained that I had negotiated and Allan signed as chair. Erdem also accused other members of perjury when they voted to honor the full stipend.”
Ural thinks of himself as a crusader, telling the residents what’s really going on in the school department, and sharing communications that they may never get to see. He’s called attention to the Committee’s failure to obey the Open Meeting laws, and the Attorney General backed him in a few cases. This has forced the School Committee to be more cognizant of that law. As part of a statement in response to a potential move to censure him, he wrote, “In reality, I take pride in thinking independently from other school committee members. I wish my fellow school committee members took their responsibilities more seriously and have the school committee harness the administration better. Instead, they appear more interested in silencing the lone dissenting voice within the committee.”
On December 18, 2012, the School Committee decided not to include some of Ural’s comments (that, in Sovinee's words, "did not conform to the goals The School Committee had voted upon, the timeframe The School Committee had voted upon, and the instrument The School Committee had voted upon") in the aggregate evaluative document of Superintendent Rizzi’s reviewing, writing, “The School Committee adamantly disagrees with Dr. Ural’s evaluation and the statements about Dr. Rizzi’s performance. Statements regarding her character and style are false, offensive and possibly illegal. Dr. Ural makes assumptions about the Superintendent’s intent that are absurd and unsupported. His claims about her trustworthiness and attitude toward the safety of our students are outrageous and offensive. Dr. Ural’s evaluation veers into character assassination of the Superintendent, which has legal implications. Dr. Ural makes claims regarding phone calls, safety, and rumors that are not supported by a shred of data or evidence.”
But, Ural believes he is doing the right thing, and is resisting being silenced. He wrote, “ I do not care if the local media and the school committee are more interested in highlighting the good news and censoring the bad news. This attitude only puts a higher responsibility on my shoulders to demand accountability, fiscal responsibility, transparency, and common sense from the School District Administration.”
Others came to the March 5th School Committee meeting (which had a possible vote to censure on the agenda) to support Dr. Ural. Paul Smith, who does occasional shows for Stoughton Cable, told me that “I like the man. I think there are illegal operations in all the departments in town. There was at the police station in the past. I think Erdem tells the truth.” Town Meeting member Ed DeFelice gave Dr. Ural kudos for reading the police reports on the two school gun incidents (a bb gun and a toy) on the Dick Murphy show. “I read the police reports and (Lt.) McGowan did say that the gun looked real. These incidents with guns had the school committee saying nothing, while in Baltimore they warned people about a pop tart shaped like a gun in an elementary school. They should have called parents, in both cases. Not to use reverse-911 saying the incident was a rumor. It’s not a matter of supporting Erdem, it’s a matter of doing the right thing.”
Forrest Lindwall, who serves on a number of town boards including the Redevelopment Authority, wrote on my Facebook in response to this column, "I certainly agree that Dr. Ural's acerbic persona is responsible for his failure to achieve his goals of changing the school administration's culture such that transparency in both fiscal and operational procedures is the order of the day. That said, if you dig further on his website and compare the SHS SOI and the Scituate SOI, you can begin to understand his evaluation of Dr. Rizzi and the failure of Stoughton's application to even be considered by the MSBA."
The School Committee intends to vote on a formal censure of Dr. Ural next Thursday at 7 p.m.
SCHOOL COMMITTEE: CASE FOR CENSURE
ERDEM'S STATEMENT ON CENSURE
HUSSEINI LETTER OF MAY 29,2012
ERDEM'S RESPONSE TO HUSSEINI LETTER
SCHOOL COMMITTEE ACCOUNTING OF LEGAL FEES
DR. URAL'S COMPLAINT TO KEATING
WEST SCHOOL GUN INCIDENT
SHS BB GUN INCIDENT
COMPLAINT (not from Erdem)
DR. URAL's WEBSITE
SOVINEE LETTER TO ERDEM
ERDEM'S RESPONSE TO SOVINEE
STOUGHTON AGGREGATE STATEMENT
SUPERINTENDENT'S EVALUATION 2012
ERDEM: SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS
ON WRONG SIDE OF LAW
SCHOOL PAYROLL AUDIT--AND THE EMAILS LEADING UP TO IT
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MARK SNYDER
TAKE ME BACK TO MAIN SITE