Becoats’ contract calls for travel approval

Oct. 17, 2013 @ 05:30 PM

The contract that Superintendent Eric Becoats signed with the Durham Public Schools encourages him to attend appropriate local state and national professional meetings with the prior approval of the chairperson of the school board.

But it was unclear Thursday whether such approval was sought or granted in the prescribed manner for the trips Becoats has taken since Heidi Carter was elected to chair the board in July 2012.

According to school officials, district employees are required to fill out a business travel form explaining where they are going, why and the anticipated cost of the trip.

Carter said she cannot remember receiving such a form from Becoats, but neither could she be certain that never did.    
“I don’t ever remember being presented with one of those,” Carter said in an interview Thursday. “I could be wrong, but no one has been able to find one on record.”

Carter does remember signing multiple leave requests for Becoats, she said, on which he noted that the leave was for professional development.

She said she can understand how Becoats might have mistaken that for proper authorization for business travel.

Becoats’ travel and use of a school district-issued credit card will be the subject of a special meeting Carter has called for Monday at 5 p.m.

Carter has suspended Becoats’ use of the credit card and recently denied two of the superintendent’s requests for travel.

She said part of what the board will consider Monday is strengthening the process authorizing the superintendent’s travel, which she contends should be the same as other employees of the district.

“I do think we need to work on the process for the chair to approve the superintendent’s travel,” Carter said.

She said Becoats’ travel needs to be well-documented and have a clear purpose that benefits the school district.

Credit card records obtained by The Herald-Sun showed that Becoats charged more than $20,000 on a school district-issued credit card over the span of 12 months, mostly for travel to out-of-state professional conferences, hotel stays and meals (including appreciation dinners for school district employees).

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 thousand, and are paid in full each month.

Carter has said she is disturbed by the level of spending on the card and the superintendent’s pace of travel, particularly given the many sacrifices made by classroom teachers.