Durham Public Schools Superintendent Becoats under fire for credit-card spending

jalexander@newsobserver.comOctober 16, 2013 

DSUPERINTENDENT.042810.JRR

Eric Becoats

JOHN ROTTET — News and Observer file photo

DURHAM The Durham Public Schools Board of Education will hold a special meeting Monday to discuss Superintendent Eric Becoats’ spending on a school district-issued credit card.

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter called the meeting, which will be held at 5 p.m.

“There were expenditures in the record for which there was not full documentation or explanation,” Carter said. “The board is seeking clarity on these expenditures. We also will consider developing additional financial controls over credit card use and travel reimbursement.”

She also said she noticed personal items being purchased on the credit card and travel cost that exceeded the state per diem rates.

“The credit card is intended to be used for the purchase of things like hotels, plane tickets, workshop registrations or other legitimate business items,” Carter said. “Most expenses associated with travel should probably be filed for reimbursement. I expect we will consider establishing tighter parameters around credit card use, whether it is needed, in what circumstances, etc.”

Records show Becoats spent $20,157.86 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.

No official policy

The district has four credit cards – one with a limit of $10,000 for the superintendent, one for the school board (which is kept by a staff liaison to the board), one in the maintenance department for permits and fees and one emergency card kept in the finance department, according to Chrissy Pearson, chief communications officer.

The district has no official policies governing the use of the cards, Pearson said.

“I welcome the opportunity to sit down with members of the board and talk about ways to improve the financial oversight of the district credit card and other expenses,” Becoats said in a statement. “Ideally, such a conversation will lead to better management and stronger policies for the district. It is always my intent to work closely with the board to address any concerns they may have.”

Becoats, who earns $215,848.56 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 $726.80 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.

In 2002, Becoats was suspended for one day without pay, docked one day of annual leave and had to repay the district $3,625 for private consulting calls he made on work time. 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. He was reported to have made 17 phone calls to Little Rock numbers from his Charlotte schools office.

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

Alexander: 919-932-2008

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