Durham school board may discuss superintendent's future on Thursday

jalexander@newsobserver.comDecember 18, 2013 

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Eric Becoats

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— The Durham Public Schools Board of Education meeting Thursday night could tell whether Superintendent Eric Becoats keeps his job.

His district credit card stripped and reprimanded for hiring a school activity bus for a private trip, Becoats is now under fire for school leaders’ begging for more money last budget season when it turns out they had millions more available than they realized.

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said she reached out to the commissioners in June because the school board thought it had only $4 million in unassigned fund balance, far below the typical $16 million in the account the board has used to help offset state budget cuts. The county manager opposed giving the schools more money because he thought the balance was higher, but the commissioners allocated another $2.4 million.

The school board recently learned it had $19.7 million in unassigned fund balance.

“The Board of Education depends on the superintendent to present an accurate accounting of what our true financial status is,” Carter said. “I feel foolish having gone in front of the county and pleaded poverty, when that doesn’t appear to be the actual case now.”

“We have complaints from teachers that they don’t have enough supplies and materials for their classroom,” Carter continued. “That’s inexcusable if we have money that we didn’t spend. We need to be sure our classrooms have the basics.”

Commissioners Chairman Michael Page said the county raised the tax rate a half-cent per $100 of assessed property value in order to give the schools more money.

“I’m glad that they found this error, but I’m really disappointed that we had to place an unfair tax request on our citizens,” he said.

The issue prompted the county commissioners to ask the school board at a meeting Tuesday how the mistake was made.

No one knew.

Carter would not say whether the board will discuss Becoats on Thursday, but board member Omega Curtis Parker said members will talk about the fund balance so his name will likely come up.

Board member Leigh Bordley said she didn’t know if Becoats would attend because he has been sick in the past week.

Efforts to reach Becoats have been unsuccessful.

Rodrigo Dorfman, an active school parent with two children in the Durham Public Schools, said it’s time for Becoats to go.

“I believe like many other parents in Durham that Dr. Becoats is not the right fit for the culture of inclusiveness, responsiveness, transparency, democracy and accountability in the community,” Dorfman said. “He’s not a good fit for all these traits. I believe the board has plenty of cause to fire him.”

Ivan Parra, lead organizer of Durham Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods (CAN), hopes Becoats stays and fulfills promises he made to Latino parents, such as hiring bilingual staff and strengthening communication between the district and the immigrant population. Much of the growth in the Durham Public Schools in recent years has come from the Latino population.

Parra, however, did say the superintendent’s problems are becoming a distraction.

“The majority of the people that I’ve talked to are unhappy with Becoats,” he said.

City Councilman Eddie Davis, a former DPS educator for more than 20 years, said the same.

“Whether the superintendent gets fired or not, a decision must be made soon so (the board) can get back to focusing on the students.”

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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