Durham officials concerned by $15M swing in school budget
Posted December 17, 2013
Durham, N.C. — 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.