Board chair's confidence in Becoats’ ‘severely shaken’

Nov. 22, 2013 @ 07:27 PM

The school board’s decision this week to not give Superintendent Eric Becoats a pay raise or to extend his contract was unanimous, signaling that at least some board members have begun to lose confidence in his ability to lead the school district.

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter pulled no punches Friday when asked if she still has confidence in Becoats’ ability o to guide Durham Public Schools.   

“My confidence has been severely shaken,” Carter said.

Minnie Forte-Brown, the board’s vice chairwoman, said she remains confident in Becoats’ ability to lead, even though she joined her colleagues in voting not to award him a pay raise or extend his contract, which expires in 2016. 

“I do,” Forte-Brown, when asked if she has confidence in Becoats’ ability to lead the school system.

Other board members declined comment on the matter Friday, citing law prohibiting public discussion of confidential personnel matters.

But what the board didn’t say spoke volumes, and a less than stellar job review should not have come as a surprise to Becoats, who has found himself mired in one controversy or another the past six months.

Last month, Becoats was called on the carpet for what some board members considered questionable use of his district-issued credit card.

He charged more than $20,000 over a 12-month period, mostly on travel to professional conferences and on meals to reward DPS staff.

Becoats was also reprimanded by the board over the summer for hiring a school bus driver and a school system activity bus to take family and friends to private events, including a trip to The Streets at Southpoint.

Still, Becoats appeared to take issue Thursday with his evaluation, issuing a statement critical of the new evaluation instrument used by the board to conduct the review.    

“I think one of the challenges with the 2012-13 process was a lack of agreed-upon measures for evaluating each goal and because of that, I think it was difficult to adequately demonstrate progress for all areas,” Becoats said after the board emerged from a closed-door meeting to make a statement about the evaluation.

School Board member Natalie Beyer disagreed with Becoats’ assessment of the new instrument.

“That’s a great evaluation tool that we used and we’ve had extensive training,” Beyer said.

Instead of the in-house instrument it used for his previous evaluations, the board switched to the McREL evaluation process for superintendents now recommended by the state Department of Public Instruction.        

Under McREL, superintendents are graded on seven prescribed standards of performance, which include strategic leadership, instructional leadership, cultural leadership, human resources leadership, managerial leadership, external development leadership and micro-political leadership.

Each board member is asked to evaluate the superintendent’s performance and to determine whether the superintendent’s skill level in each of the seven standards is developing, proficient, accomplished, distinguished or not demonstrated.

“As most of you know, this is the first year that we have utilized this new hybrid evaluation instrument and I think that instrument in and of itself has some challenges,” Becoats told the board.

Becoats said he believes McREL will eventually become a good evaluative tool for the superintendent, principals and teachers, all of whom will receive annual performance reviews using it.

“I do feel sure that for 2013-14, hopefully we will have greater uniformity and we’ll be able to move forward with a common purpose,” Becoats said.

As the superintendent, Becoats is the highest paid employee in the school district, earning $223,044 a year. His starting salary in 2010 was $190,000.

Becoats told the board he agrees with its decision to not give him a pay raise, noting that teachers did not receive raises.

 “I do support the decision made by the Board of Education to not provide a financial increase given that our teachers have not received an increase as originally recommended by our governor,” Becoats said. 

The board began its evaluation of Becoats last week.

Under district rules, it is required to evaluate Becoats in October, but was late doing so because of the delay in receiving state accountability data and scores used in the evaluation process. 

That data showed only 34 percent of students proficient in the latest round of state testing under the new Common Core standards, a drop of more than 20 percent over the previous school year.

Other districts struggled similarly under the new rigorous tests and many of them saw decreases in test scores.

Dan Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators in Alexandria, Va., said such is the life of a modern superintendent.

He said school boards “fall out of love” with them all of the time, particularly in urban school districts.

“Understand that the tenure of a superintendent is short-lived, just three years for the superintendent of an urban school district,” Domenech said. “Superintendents don’t have a very long shelf life.”