Durham schools superintendent reprimanded for school bus trip to mall

From staff reportsAugust 1, 2013 

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats

MARK SCHULTZ — mschultz@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— The Durham school board has issued a letter of reprimand to Superintendent Eric Becoats for hiring a school activity bus and driver in June to take friends and family members to private events, including a trip to the mall.

Becoats paid $726.80 for the services, according to an invoice.

But his action was “inappropriate” and violated school board policy and state law, according to a Durham Public Schools Board of Education statement released Thursday.

It is at least the second time in his career that Becoats has been reprimanded for misusing district resources. In 2004, he was suspended one day without pay and ordered to reimburse the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for making private consulting calls at work.

An investigation by the Durham school board attorney into the June 7-8 bus trips did not find that Becoats intentionally violated local policy or law, according to the school board statement.

“In arranging for use of the bus, Dr. Becoats asked to be billed for the cost of the activity bus and driver. He paid the invoiced amount promptly,” the statement said. “The investigation showed that the invoiced amount did not cover the full cost of the driver. Dr. Becoats was issued a revised invoice, which he has paid.”

School employees , particularly school leaders, are not to use public resources for private benefit, the statement continued, concluding: “The board has issued a letter of reprimand to Dr. Becoats that explains the board’s serious concerns about this issue. With this information shared, the board has no further comment on the matter.

Becoats said he was informed of the policy after the June trips, which included a visit to the Streets at Southpoint mall.

“I apologize for my mistake,” he said in his own statement. “As superintendent, I will continue to build on the progress that we have made in the district (decrease in dropout rates, increase in graduation rates, increases in student proficiency rates, etc.).”

The superintendent’s salary is $195,700, and his contract runs through June 30, 2016. Becoats came to Durham after serving as chief administrative officer for Guilford County Schools.

He started his career in Baltimore before rising through the ranks in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, becoming assistant superintendent for planning and development in 2002. He held the post 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.

Durham school board members were aware of the situation when they hired Becoats in 2010 but were more focused on his experience planning and working in urban school districts, then-board member Steve Martin said at the time.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service