Durham names Becoats superintendent

April 29, 2010 4:27:23 AM PDT
Durham Public Schools named Guilford County Chief Administrative Officer Eric Becoats as its new superintendent Wednesday.

Effective July 1, Becoats will replace Dr. Carl Harris, who left the position last year after accepting a job with the Obama administration to work at the Department of Education.

Harris gave three years of service to Durham. He lowered the dropout rate and he improved overall achievement in the school system.

The new superintendent will be charged with continuing to improve achievement gaps and tackling some fiscal challenges. A massive budget crunch is in order.

Becoats will inherit an estimated $20 million in cuts that could include layoffs.

During Becoats' first public speech before the school board Wednesday night, he acknowledged the burden he'll bare.

"This is a major responsibility that I take very seriously," he said.

Tackling the budget could mean increasing class sizes, not having money for new textbooks and cutting 400 jobs -- 200 of which belong to teachers.

"When our budgets are being cut statewide and locally it is important that we have a person who has a vision that is respected well enough that you can draw down resources from outside sources," Durham Schools Board Chair Minnie Forte-Brown said.

Becoats has plenty of experience. He's leaving his post as the CEO of Guilford County schools - the state's third largest - where he helped pass a $457 million bond issue and raised $8 million for a teacher incentives grant.

Before that, Becoats implemented a nationally recognized re-assignment plan for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system.

His tenure in Charlotte was not without controversy. He was reprimanded and later resigned in 2004 after being accused of conducting personal business with district resources for a consulting company he owned.

He was suspended for a day and asked to repay about $4,000.

Durham school board members said Wednesday they were aware of the accusation before they decided to hire him.

Becoats has a doctorate in educational leadership from UNC Charlotte, plus a master's degree in financial planning from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor's degree in accounting and business from Lincoln University.

He said Wednesday he plans to use some of the same ideas that brought him success in Guilford in Durham.

"In Guilford County, we have one of the highest graduation rates in the state of North Carolina, we have one of the lowest dropout rates, so from those two experiences in and of itself, I have a proven track record," Becoats said.

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