Commentary

Saunders: Durham schools Superintendent Becoats should have known better

bsaunders@newsobserver.comOctober 23, 2013 

Here’s one that used to crack ’em up on the playground at Leak Street School:

Q: How do you stop a wild elephant from charging?

A: Take away his credit card.

OK, no need to throw things. I’ll show myself out after that one. But taking away his credit card appears to be the strategy employed by the Durham school board to stop its profligate superintendent from charging.

The board voted unanimously to suspend the charging privileges of Superintendent Eric “Be cool with that credit card” Becoats after unexplained charges showed up.

An N&O story reported that Becoats, possibly doing his best Big Money Grip impression, spent $20,158 on the credit card from July 2012 to June 2013.

The legitimacy of those charges notwithstanding – and most appear to be legit – a school spokeswoman said there are no set rules for using the school-district-issued card. That means that Becoats, who earns $215,819 annually, with $7,000 more for travel, likely broke no laws because there were none.

‘Not clear policies’

Schools spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson told me, “There are not clear policies (written out) on what charges can be made” on the corporate credit cards. Perhaps not, but EGADS! man.

Just because something isn’t spelled out explicitly as being wrong doesn’t make it right.

As thus far reported, nothing Becoats has done here rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, but they do rise to the level of head-scratching, of “What the heck was homeslice thinking when he did that?”

It was just in June, remember, that the board lit Becoats up for – sit down for this one, Loretta – commandeering a school bus and bus driver to ferry family and friends on a shopping trip to the The Streets at Southpoint mall.

It is only within the widest parameters of imagination that such an excursion could be considered educational.

Becoats: “OK, class. What did we learn today on this – ahem – educational outing?”

Student: “I learned that if I buy two pairs of Jimmy Choo pumps at 50 percent off, I may still need to hit my sister up for a loan at the end of the month in order to pay my rent.”

Becoats: Those are very good shoes, Clytemnestra, and quality pays off in the long run. And you, Seymour. What did you learn from this educational – Got that, kid? Educational – foray?

Seymour: I learned that if I eat two Cinnabons in 15 minutes and wash them down with an Orange Julius, I won’t be able to fasten my britches.

Becoats: Great. Yes, Cissy?

Cissy: Mr. E.B., can I find another seat upwind of Seymour?

Boneheaded judgment

For a man of intellect, Becoats has been guilty of jaw-droppingly boneheaded judgment. He was reprimanded for the shopping caper, and he resigned as an assistant superintendent for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 2004 after being accused of using district resources to conduct personal business.

The issue with his profligacy is, of course, moot now, since the board has revoked his charging privileges. Heidi Carter, the school board member who first noticed the questionable transactions, told me Becoats will now have to “fill out a reimbursement form and submit it” when he returns from school-business trips.

It’s easy to be Big Money Grip when you’re flashing a platinum corporate card. It’s much harder when you have to ask for a receipt for that Cinnabon bun.

Embarrassing, to say the least, but to paraphrase an old Beach Boys tune, Becoats certainly had fun, fun, fun till the school board took his Visa away.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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