Durham schools chief Becoats resigns amid criticism

jalexander@newsobserver.comDecember 19, 2013 

— Durham schools superintendent Eric Becoats has resigned effective Dec. 31, in the wake of several financial issues.

The school board, after meeting in hourlong closed session Thursday night, accepted his resignation in a 4-3 vote, split along racial lines. White members voted to accept his resignation, while black members voted to reject it. The board had previously voted not to extend Becoats’ contract when it was to expire in 2016.

The resignation agreement Thursday states: “Dr. Becoats and the Board recognize that fundamental differences have arisen between the superintendent and board over the best way to govern Durham Public Schools.”

The board will pay Becoats a one-time severance payment, on or before Dec. 31, worth $298,072.54 minus tax, retirement and other deductions as determined by the finance officer. Those funds will come from the school system’s local unrestricted fund balance.

Becoats’ contract, worth $215,848.56 annually, ran through 2016. He spent three years as Durham Public Schools’ superintendent.

A troubled year

The past year, however, has been rocky.

Last week, an audit revealed the schools had $15 million more in unassigned funds than the board originally reported.

Board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said she had reached out to the commissioners in June because the school board thought it had only $4 million in unassigned funds, far less than the typical $16 million the board has normally kept in the account to help offset state budget cuts. The commissioners allocated another $2.4 million.

Carter said Becoats had provided the board with bad financial information, prompting the county commissioners to ask the school board Tuesday for an explanation of how the mistake was made.

But no one knew.

In October, records revealed Becoats spent $20,157.86 on his district-issued 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.

Becoats’ credit card was one of four district-issued cards. There had been no official policy outlining the use of the cards, but the board canceled his card in October. In November, they also decided to discontinue the other cards and tighten rules on travel reimbursement and spending.

In July, Becoats came under fire for 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. He reimbursed the school system $726.80, according to an invoice, and was reprimanded, but the contents of his reprimand were not released to the public.

Accomplishments cited

After the motion to accept his resignation was approved Thursday, Becoats took the floor to highlight his achievements, including being named Superintendent of the Year by the National Alliance of Black Student Educators in 2012.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that we have not made a difference in the lives of these children,” Becoats said in a statement. “My mission has not changed, nor has my vision.”

After his statement, Becoats shook each board member’s hands.

“Thank you for your positive contributions you have made to the district, and we wish you well,” Carter told Becoats.

“It was a decision made by the majority of the board that the relationship with the superintendent was not going to be productive going forward,” Minnie Forte-Brown, vice chairwoman, said afterward. “I’m sad to see him go. I think he did a stellar job.”

“We’ll start a search,” she said. “We don’t know when that will be, but that will be our next step.”

Hugh Osteen, deputy superintendent of operations, will serve as acting superintendent.

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

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