Education

Durham officials concerned by $15M swing in school budget

Posted December 17, 2013

Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats

— Some Durham County Board of Education members on Tuesday blamed Superintendent Eric Becoats for a budget error that had school board members begging county commissioners a few months ago for money that they didn't need.

Commissioners provided Durham Public Schools with an additional $2.4 million in June after the school board said the district's fund balance was "dangerously low" and that more money was needed to fund operations for the growing district.

A recent audit determined that the district's fund balance is $19.7 million, almost five times the $4 million level school board members believed it to be in June.

"We presented a case that said we were poor," an embarrassed and angry school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said Tuesday. "We were coming to the commissioners, saying the financial status of our district is that we have these extra needs and we have no where to turn to find the funding to meet those needs. Now, we find that actually we probably had ample funding to meet the needs we had built into our budget. That's disturbing to the Board of Education as well as to the commissioners."

Carter said Becoats should have provided better budget figures to the board before members asked for more money.

"We depend on the superintendent to present an accurate accounting to our true financial picture," she said. "We were not given an accurate picture of the district's financial status. I'm frustrated in that I don't believe I had the information I needed to have before going before the county."

Becoats declined a request from WRAL News for comment.

In recent months, the school board reprimanded him for using a district school bus and driver to take his family and friends to private events, and the board canceled district credit cards after he rang up personal purchases on his card.

School board member Omega Curtis Parker said Becoats shouldn't be made a scapegoat for the budget error.

"It looks as if we are pointing fingers," she said in a statement. "Becoats’ responsibility is for the operations of the entire school system, but it’s also the responsibility of the board, because we all were provided with that information."

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said she was bothered by the $15 million swing in the district's budget estimates, but she said the focus now should be on better communication between the district and the county regarding future needs.

"We have a solid school district, but on the other hand, we have to work hand in glove together, and there has to be excellent communication between us, and when we ask direct questions, we need to get good solid answers," Reckhow said.

The school board is "committed to building a detailed and transparent budget," Carter said.

17 Comments

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  • Durham-Raleigh Dec 19, 6:19 p.m.

    I don't understand the blame on the board on this one. Under the current chair, the board has reacted quickly to the bus scandal, the credit card scandal, and now the fund balance scandal. The board changed leadership after the last election with a new chair -- who is different than the chair in place when Becoats was hired -- and they have not hesitated to raise concerns.

    The board is just like the City Council in a council/manager system: they hire the superintendent (or city manager), who is the "CEO," if you will, while they are the board of directors. They count on their CEO for accurate information; it's not their responsibility to route around him to ask questions of the department heads.

    Which means that when they find they are NOT getting accurate info, they need to call their CEO on the carpet and demand accountability. Which, fortunately, is exactly what seems to be happening here.

    Don't blame today's board, ask why others championed Becoats so long.

  • Setnitst8 Dec 19, 12:28 p.m.

    How does he still have a job? Is there some reason this guy hasn't been fired after any of his numerous scandals. As a parent of a child who attends a Durham Public School, I am pretty disappointed that nothing has been done about this and that he will just further drag the school system down.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Dec 19, 10:32 a.m.

    I'm a huge education advocate, but this guy has done nothing but fumble since the short time he's been here. It's time to start looking for a replacement.

  • nano Dec 18, 5:01 p.m.

    This is the same person with the jacked-up credit card expenses? Just another mistake, eh? How can you be off by $15 M? Bye, and don't let the door hit ya on the way out.

  • claytontarheel Dec 18, 12:56 p.m.

    Does the school system not have a Finance/Budget department? I'll give you that the superintendent should have been the first one asking questions about how we got to this point, but if he didn't have the answers when the initial request was made, the school board should have been asking for answers. They were all negligent.

  • superman Dec 17, 6:58 p.m.

    Who is their school finance director that allows this guy to keep going? The Supt and the finance director needs to be fired. Gross incompetence. Parents and taxpayers deserve better. Perhaps some of the school board members need to resign.

  • theblazer Dec 17, 6:10 p.m.

    All these "growing" school districs with no increase in revenues...public education is a scam in this state.
    Education gets way too much money to blow, they keep
    building more and more schools instead of building bigger schools so they can create more administration jobs. Classrooms, good teachers, and books - If taxpers have to pay for any of it, thats all that should be covered.

  • hp277 Dec 17, 6:06 p.m.

    Becoats should be fired - period.

  • Rebelyell55 Dec 17, 6:00 p.m.

    I'm betting he didn't fair well in business math. Yet they'll keep this guy around? I think one poster had right, time for new board members if they can't see this guy is not capable.

  • Justic4All Dec 17, 5:30 p.m.

    Commissioners provided Durham Public Schools with an additional $2.4 million in June after the school board said the district's fund balance was "dangerously low"

    Sounds like the school board blew this one. They should have questioned the need for additional funding or they should have investigated, "Where'd da money go?" before requesting additional funds. Also DPS should have acted in the dame fashion instead of just forking over the funds.

    No body wants to know why? I have money, here take it. Sure it's enough? I have more for you. I heard you mention being poor so we need subsidize you any way possible. That is the way of the liberals.

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