Carter to call special meeting to discuss Becoats’ spending

Oct. 15, 2013 @ 06:08 PM

DURHAM – School board chairwoman Heidi Carter plans to call a special meeting to discuss Superintendent Eric Becoats’ use of a school district credit card.

Carter said Tuesday that she has been “disturbed” by Becoats’ spending habits and has suspended the superintendent’s use of his school district-issued credit card pending the outcome of the special meeting.

Because of the requirement to give 48 hours' notice before calling such a meeting, Carter said the special meeting will be held either late this week or sometime next week, depending on the availability of board members.

“Based on what I know so far, the superintendent’s spending patterns and the purchase of some items disturb me greatly,” Carter said. “We have not heard his side of the story, and we will do that.”

Becoats said in a statement that he welcomes the opportunity to meet with the board to discuss ways to improve the financial oversight of the district credit card and other expenses.

“Ideally, such a conversation will lead to better management and stronger policies for the district,” Becoats said. “It is always my intent to work closely with the board to address any concerns they may have.”

The call for the special meeting comes on the heels of the school district’s release of one year’s worth of Becoats’ credit card records -- June 2012-June 2013 -- that The Herald-Sun requested.

Members of the school board also received copies of the records as well as earlier copies of Becoats’ credit card reports.

“I’m calling a special meeting to talk about those records and to discuss putting into place some stronger financial controls around credit card and other spending,” Carter said.

The school district issued Becoats a SunTrust Bank credit card with a $10,000 limit.

The monthly balances on the card during the period examined range from several hundred dollars to a few thousands, and are paid in full each month.

The records show that from June 2012 to June 2013, Becoats rang up about $20,000 in charges, mostly for travel to out-of-state professional conferences, hotel stays, meals, including appreciation dinners for school district employees and lunches for his executive leadership team meetings, among other charges.

And on occasion, the records show that Becoats submitted cashier’s checks from the State Employees' Credit Union to the Durham Public Schools, presumably to pay for personal charges on the credit card issued by the school district.

Carter said it is inappropriate for Becoats to use his school district-issued card for personal items.

“That’s a serious concern for me,” Carter said. “I don’t think it [Becoats’ school-issued credit card] should be used to make personal purchases. It appears we’re going to have to meet to make that expectation clear.”

While nothing in the credit card report suggests the superintendent has misappropriated school district funds, Carter said she is concerned about the superintendent’s general spending habits and his pace of travel given the school district’s tight budget and the sacrifices teachers make everyday.

Additionally, Carter said two recent requests from Becoats to travel have been denied.

“I think the board needs to have a serious discussion with the superintendent and see where we go from here,” Carter said. “It’s very important to this board in these austere budgetary times that every penny that is spent is spent with students in mind and how it helps children to be successful in school.”

Becoats has been on the hot seat in recent months for hiring a school bus driver and a school system activity bus in June to take his friends and family to private events, including a trip to The Streets at Southpoint.

He received a reprimand from the board for violating board policies and state law regarding the use of school activity bus, although the board found he did not intend to violate the policy or law.