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Get to Know: Erdem Ural, Candidate for Stoughton School Committee

Stoughton School Committee candidates answer a Stoughton Patch questionnaire. The Town Election is Tuesday, April 10.

In an effort to give residents a last chance to hear from the candidates before the April 10 Town Election, Stoughton Patch sent a questionnaire to each of the candidates running in a contested race.

The questions are printed as they were presented to the candidates and their answers are printed as they were received (unedited).

The following responses are from School Committee Candidate Dr. Erdem Ural:

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  • Background information (how long you've served or your prior service on various town boards) and any other pertinent info you would like readers/voters to know about you.

I have a Doctorate degree in Aerospace Engineering. I am an internationally acclaimed scientist, experienced educator and entrepreneur. I have a proven management and community service track record. I am a Stoughton home and business owner. My wife and I have two children: both attending Stoughton Public Schools. Therefore, I have a vested interest in improving the quality of education in Stoughton Public Schools.

I love Stoughton, and I love serving Stoughton as a passionate and energetic volunteer. In the past, I served a three-year term on the Stoughton School Committee, and lost the re-election by 75 votes last year. I am a Town Meeting member, serve on the Stoughton Committee on Finance and Taxation, and Charter Review Committee.

Please feel free to contact me at 781-818-4114 or at erdem@02072.org . You can find more information about some of the important issues facing Stoughton Schools in my campaign web page at www.02072.org . Please vote for me on April 10, 2012.

  • Why are you running for this position?

I am running for the School Committee because I know our schools can do better, and I can make a difference towards that goal.

Stoughton Schools are facing serious educational problems, and the student achievement is going down. Yet, School Committee meetings are nothing more than a dog and pony show. Everyone pats on each other’s back. I am running for the School Committee because I know I can bring common sense and honest discussion into the meetings. If we face the reality and deal with it, our kids will do much better, our town will do much better, and our home values will do much better.

Surprisingly, Stoughton Schools have neither a vision statement, nor a current strategic plan. Our latest strategic plan dates back to 2009.

Despite these problems, just a few months ago, during one of the toughest economic times, all five members of the Stoughton School Committee unanimously decided to give the Superintendent a $28,500 raise. This incredible raise is more than an average Stoughton resident makes in a whole year. We must demand accountability, fiscal responsibility, transparency, and common sense from administration.

After the Ed Reform, the School Committee was left with only a few roles and responsibilities. One of them is to Supervise the Superintendent. Stoughton needs a School Committee that will harness the Superintendent’s intellect, teach her to always take the high road, and direct her energy towards improving our children’s education.

  • What separates you from your opponent? Why should residents vote for you? 

I am not satisfied with status quo in our schools. I do not want our schools to strive for mediocracy. Our children deserve the best education we can afford. I demand accountability, fiscal responsibility, transparency, impeccable ethics, and common sense from the Administration.

I am a firm believer that every school and town department administrator and board member wants what they think is the best for Stoughton. Therefore, I always maintain a professional attitude, and treat everyone with respect and dignity. My neutrality, active listening skills, analytical reasoning, and fiscal responsibility will be an asset to the school committee and to the Town leadership.

I will promote increasing the frequency of meetings among town manager, selectmen, school committee, school superintendent, and finance committee officers. I will strive to make these meetings proactive, professional, constructive and compassionate to create win-win outcomes.

Through my experience managing national and international committees and their relations with other committees, I have developed a finesse that will be invaluable for the school committee to enhance the communication channels and communication quality with all the town stakeholders.

I am the only school committee candidate who has children attending Stoughton schools. I am a passionate advocate of improving the quality of education in Stoughton Schools. Having great schools will undoubtedly attract more desirable businesses, and higher paying jobs into our Town, and in the process, grow our tax base. Besides, Stoughton children are our most important legacy and we owe them the proper preparation for the tough competition they will face in the global marketplace of the 21st Century.

My opponent is serving his 21st year on the school committee. I will bring fresh, independent and critical thinking to the School Committee, that is strictly in the best interest of the Town. In the past, some school committee members, including the incumbent, had to recuse themselves from very important votes or negotiations because of conflicts of interest. I have no conflicts that will prohibit my full participation, because none of my family members works for the Schools or the Town.

In his political advertisement, incumbent takes credit for every single accomplishment of Stoughton Schools over the last two decades, effectively minimizing the contributions of Stoughton residents, teachers, administrations and other school committee members.  I, on the other hand, know that each School Committee member has a single vote, is elected to be an independent critical thinker, and decisions are made collectively. I welcome differences in opinion and examine them carefully as opportunities for potential improvement.

  • What is the most important issue facing the schools?

The most important issue facing the Stoughton Schools is the decline in student achievement. Despite the heroic efforts of most Stoughton teachers, parents, and kids, MCAS results and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores show that student achievement is not improving significantly in Stoughton Schools. According to the latest scholastic SAT test results posted on the Department of Education web site, achievement of Stoughton students is substantially below the state average. For example, when it came to critical reading skills of our boys, Stoughton was number 222 out of 268 in Massachusetts. Mean scores for reading, writing, and math all showed a substantial decline from the previous year.

MCAS tests determine if the students are meeting the minimum Massachusetts educational achievement requirements. Stoughton results typically hover around the state average. However, we have alarming deficiencies in specific areas. For example, 2011 5th grade MCAS science test determined that 66% of the Gibbons School Students either needed improvement or were failing. This result is far worse than the state average. Furthermore, at the Gibbons school, both 5th grade Science and 5th grade English results declined substantially from the 2010 results.

According to www.Schooldigger.com website referenced by our Superintendent for MCAS ranking of schools, one Stoughton elementary school ranked number 761 out of 895 elementary schools in Massachusetts. Similarly, according to 2011 MCAS results, our High School dropped from being number 140 in 2010 to being number 196 out of 354 high schools in Massachusetts.

I am certainly not satisfied with these outcomes. We have great kids with great potential. We have great teachers. Our children deserve an education they will be proud. School Committee meetings should go beyond being just a dog and pony show. We must confront our educational problems honestly and openly before we can solve them. Only then, our kids will do much better, our town will do much better, and our home values will do much better.

Lately, the School Committee and Superintendent have been expending much energy on conflicts with other stakeholders. For example, they had to deal with conflicts with the Teachers Union, Stoughton Police, Procurement Manager, Town Manager, and even with the Town Charter. Stoughton needs a School Committee that will harness the Superintendent’s intellect, teach her to always take the high road, direct her energy towards improving our children’s education, and hold the Administration accountable.

  • What is your take on the procurement issue between the town and the schools? How can the relationship between the town side and schools be improved in general?

I was deeply saddened to see the drama unfold on the procurement issue. I am concerned that the School Committee and the Superintendent’s public tantrum demanding to be allowed to conduct Public School business in “gray areas” may have tarnished her image as a role model for our children.

To put matters into perspective, back in 2010, Finance Committee commissioned an Operational Audit of various areas of our Town. The final report of this audit recommended “Further centralizing of [human resources and procurement] functions will allow the Town to:

* Improve administrative efficiency

* Relieve department heads of administrative burdens, allowing them to focus on their primary responsibility.

* Improve budgetary and financial internal control

* Lessen risk of non-compliance with a growing list of applicable laws and regulations

* Improve financial and other reporting capabilities

* Save money in the long-term.”

The Operational Audit report also highlighted the fact that Town Hall and School Department use different incompatible financial software, which do not talk to each other, and recommended that the Town “consider integrating the various financial software applications into one financial management system maintained throughout the Town.”

Furthermore, the 2010 Operational Audit report included a warning statement: “In accordance with MGL, Chapter 41, Section 57, "the Town Accountant shall have custody of all contracts of the Town". We noted school contract and bidding information is maintained at the school department. In addition, we remind Town personnel that grant awards and contracts also fall under this requirement.”

I find it appalling that two years after an independent audit we commissioned and paid for, the Superintendent still resists giving the Town Accountant all contracts as required by the Law.

In all the relentless arguments on the procurement issue, there was no dispute that procurement authority for supplies and services currently belong to the Chief Procurement Officer, which is the Town Manager. In fact, this is why the Superintendent and the School Committee are trying to change the Town Charter. The School Department has been demanding that the Town Manager delegate his full authority to the Superintendent. I am glad, the interim Town Manager generously allowed the School Department to save face by increasing the $24,999 purchasing limit to $100,000 through the end of the fiscal year. I sense from the news article, interim Town Manager also appears to know that delegation of authority must be accompanied by responsibility and accountability.

I firmly believe that the root cause of the friction between Town Government and School Administration is distrust fueled by secrecy. I know from my own experience as a School Committee member, Town Meeting member, and Finance Committee member, our Superintendent is notorious when it comes to sharing information freely. I am hoping that the new School Committee, interim and new Town managers will skillfully get her to submit all paperwork for all contracts and share all data and information. Because trust can only be built if there are no secrets, perceived or real, between the Town Government and School Administration.

Stoughton residents can no longer afford to pay for the duplication of efforts and personnel in our Town government and School Administration. We cannot tolerate to see them wasting energy fighting each other, and threatening to sue each other by spending our hard earned tax money on lawyers. We are one Town; we demand a seamless and collaborative government.

  • Statements of interest were filed for both Stoughton High and the South School. How much of a priority is it to replace or renovate Stoughton High School? What about the South School? Which school should be the district's highest priority if MSBA [Massachusetts School Building Authority] funding is available for only one school?

Because of the neglected maintenance year after year, both South School and High School are in extremely poor shape, and are in urgent need for repairs or rebuilding. Stoughton School Committee and Selectmen chose to submit Statements of Interests to MSBA for both schools. However, according to the MSBA official I spoke to, either only one or none of the two projects will be funded. School Committee designated the High School as the number 1 priority.

The School Committee also created a Town Meeting Warrant article seeking $1,000,000 to fund a Feasibility Study of the Stoughton High School and/or the South Elementary School and to fund an Owners Project Manager. However, the article has some technical problems, which we may or may not be able to fix before the Town Meeting vote. Fortunately, according to the MSBA representative, even if the article does not get approved during the 2012 Town Meeting, getting it approved during the 2013 annual Town Meeting will not jeopardize Stoughton’s chances of getting a new school building. This is because the earliest an MSBA approval can come is July 2012, and then Stoughton will be given 9 months to get the feasibility study funded by the Town Meeting.

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