Education

New Durham superintendent had past problems

Posted April 29, 2010 6:42 p.m. EDT
Updated April 30, 2010 5:27 a.m. EDT

— Members of the Durham County Board of Education said Thursday that they knew about blemishes on the record of the man they have picked to be their next superintendent.

Eric Becoats was named to the position Wednesday night and will begin work in Durham in July. He currently is chief administrative officer of Guilford County Schools.

In 2004, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools suspended Becoats for one day without pay after administrators determined he had used district resources to work on his outside consulting business.

WSOC-TV in Charlotte reported at the time that administrators ordered him to repay $3,600. He resigned after the incident.

"We've had conversations about that, and the consulting business was ended and the issues were addressed," Becoats said Wednesday. "Now, I'm here, and my focus is on student achievement and making things better in Durham Public Schools."

Durham school board member Steve Martin said he and his colleagues "were fully aware" of Becoats' past problems, but they aren't concerned about it. Becoats' contract contains standard language about consequences of personal work during business hours, he said.

Instead, Martin said, board members focused on Becoats' leadership in Charlotte and, more recently, in Guilford County Schools.

"This is a very complex organization. It's a $480 million budget, and so we are looking for someone who understands the educational side of things but also understands the management side of things," Martin said. "(We liked him) for moving a district forward, for making systemic change, for focusing on student achievement and for doing it within a budget and garnering community and public suport."

Kirsten Kainz, the lone school board member to vote against hiring Becoats, said that her decision had nothing to do with the way he left Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

"I think that Dr. Becoats has expertise that he brings to table, but his expertise isn't necessarily working closely with teachers and principals, and that's what I was looking for," Kainz said. "It's not a vote against him. It's a vote to make sure that we prioritize teaching and learning in Durham. That is at the forefront of our vision."

Guilford County Board of Education Chairman Alan Duncan said Becoats has been good for that district and has shown leadership and creativity in tackling tough issues.

“I think he’s grown here in the five years he’s been here, and I think he’s done some fine work,” Duncan said.

Guilford County outscores Durham County on state tests, but both districts fall short of state averages in most subjects. Guilford County is at the state average on end-of-grade math scores.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who has long overseen academic performance in the state's public schools, has ordered both districts to appear before him next week to answer for what he calls inadequate education.

"I wouldn't say it was daunting," Becoats said of Manning's order. "I think it really provides us with an opportunity to really examine the data and to really come up with real solutions to solve some of these challenging problems that are facing us, and I think that it can be done."