Becoats’ travel, credit card use under scrutiny

Oct. 17, 2013 @ 09:19 AM

Records show that Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats charged more than $3,200 to his school district credit card in September 2012.

It was the single largest amount charged by Becoats on the card from June 2012-June 2013.

The school district recently released Becoats’ credit card records, which were requested by The Herald-Sun.

School board chairwoman Heidi Carter has called a special meeting Monday to discuss the records and the superintendent’s travel.

What stands out about the September 2012 bill is that approximately one-third of it – $1,077 – went for a two night’s stay at the upscale DoubleTree Hotel in the New York’s famous Time Square.

Including taxes and internet access, Becoat’s first night at the DoubleTree on Sept. 23 cost $464.82.

The price increased nearly $147.71 to $612.53 for Becoats’ second night at the hotel.

Becoats, in New York to attend NBC’s News Education Nation Conference, also spent $170 on a car service during the trip.

Four days later, he traveled to Chicago to attend the SUPES Academy for new superintendents. There he spent $320 for a night’s stay at the W Hotel in Chicago’s Center City, including $30 in mini bar charges.

Carter said the board needs to talk about Becoat’s use of the district credit card and discuss “putting into place some stronger financial controls around credit card and other spending.”  

“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.”

Becoat’s credit card spending also tipped the $3,000 mark in November 2012.

That was the month he was named Superintendent of the Year by the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) during the organization’s annual conference in Nashville.

The award is given each year to the superintendent identified by the group as demonstrating leadership that has resulted in significant positive outcomes for students of African descent.

Becoats’ national recognition for improving educational outcomes for African American students in the school system was applauded in most quarters.

And he took several members of his leadership team to Nashville to help celebrate the accomplishment.

The district paid for hotel rooms, airfair and meals for four staffers – Le Boler, a former program specialist, Lewis Ferebee, the district’s former Chief of Staff, Stacey Wilson Norman, area superintendent for elementary schools and Julie Spencer, area superintendent for middle schools.

The hotel rooms at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel for the entourage totaled $917, and were paid for with Becoats’ credit card. The flights to Nashville apparently were handled separately and do not appear to have been paid for with the superintendent’s credit card.

The NABSE reimbursed the school district $505.30 for a portion of Becoat’s hotel stay and travel.

Carter recently has denied two requests for Becoats to travel. 

Becoats’ credit card records show a superintendent who is generous in rewarding principals and school administrators, usually with food.

One credit card transaction in 2012, for example, shows that Becoats treated the district’s 11 middle school principals, two high school principals and Spencer, to the Angus Barn in Raleigh.

The tab for the 15 people, including Becoats, came to $586.29.

The record shows that members of his executive leadership team also eats well during its monthly meeting.

Becoats usually uses his district credit card to purchases food for the “working lunch” from Picnic Basket catering, spending in excess of $150 for many meals.

Carter declined to discuss specific uses of the district credit card on Wednesday, but said the board has emphasized careful spending throughout the school district.

“We want a culture at DPS where every expense is substantiated,” 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 by The Herald-Sun range from several hundred dollars to a few thousand, and are paid in full each month.

All total, 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.

The records also show that Becoats submitted cashier’s checks from the State Employee Credit Union to the Durham Public Schools on occasion to presumably pay for personal charges on the credit card.

Becoats has had a rocky few months, having been chastised by the board in June for hiring a school bus driver and a bus to 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 buses, although the board found he did not intend to violate the policy or law.