Durham school board cancels superintendent’s credit card

jalexander@newsobserver.comOctober 21, 2013 

DURHAM The Durham Public Schools Board of Education met with Superintendent Eric Becoats in a closed special meeting for more than three hours Monday to discuss the spending on his school district-issued credit card.

The board canceled the card, but did not punish Becoats.

“The board has unanimously directed our school attorney working with staff to continue to review credit card charges, and whether other action including reimbursement of any charges needs to be taken,” school board chairwoman Heidi Carter said in a statement. “The credit card assigned to the superintendent’s office has been terminated by the board, and the board does plan to have an open session in the near future to consider additional financial controls, policies and procedures.”

Carter last week said she had questions about Becoats’ spending on the credit card and called the meeting to seek clarity on his purchases. Carter saw spending on personal items not related to improving student learning, she said. She also said the board would discuss putting tighter parameters on the use of the card.

The school district had no official policies governing the use of the credit card, Chrissy Pearson, the school system’s chief communications officer, said last week.

Records revealed Becoats spent $20,158 on the credit card from July 2012 to June 2013 for out-of-state conferences, dinners and lunches with colleagues, economy-class air travel, hotels, room service, limousines from the airport, meetings, workshop supplies, flowers for recognition of employee achievements and gifts to a host family in Mexico.

The records also show at least three cashier’s checks totaling $580 paid by Becoats to the Durham Public Schools. All of the credit card statements appear to be paid in full.

Becoats, who earns $215,849 plus $7,200 for travel annually, was reprimanded by the school board in July after hiring a school activity bus and driver in June to take friends and family members to private events, including a trip to The Streets at Southpoint mall. Becoats paid $727 for the services, according to an invoice. The contents of the reprimand were not released to the public, but Becoats was not suspended.

He also was reprimanded in a previous job.

Becoats worked as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools assistant superintendent for planning and development until 2004, when he resigned after being accused of using district resources to conduct personal business.

The school system in Little Rock, Ark., had hired him to give advice on developing a student assignment plan based on parental choice, the Charlotte Observer reported at the time. Becoats was reported to have made 17 phone calls to Little Rock numbers from his Charlotte schools office. He was suspended for one day without pay, docked one day of annual leave and had to repay the district $3,625. While employees were not banned from private consulting, Becoats was reprimanded for doing so during work time.

While employees were not banned from private consulting, Becoats was reprimanded for doing so during work time.

Becoats came to Durham after serving as chief administrative officer for Guilford County Schools. After Monday’s meeting, he also issued a statement.

“We will continue to work on policies and procedures to enhance operations within the district, and I am going to continue to focus on academic achievement because at the end of the day that’s what’s most important,” Becoats said. “Making sure our children are progressing.”

Alexander: 919-932-2008

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