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Charter school CEO submits new ethics disclosures for relatives’ employment

About two weeks after The Lens investigated familial ties at the charter organization Friends of King Schools, Chief Executive Officer Doris Roché-Hicks filed new ethics disclosures stating why she is legally allowed to employ three of her immediate relatives.

Friends of King employs six of Roché-Hicks’ relatives. Two appear to violate state nepotism law, which generally prohibits the head of a public agency from employing “immediate” family. That includes children, spouses of children, siblings and siblings’ spouses. The law makes an exception in certain cases, such as for state-certified classroom teachers — like Roché-Hicks’ daughter.

Within 30 days of the start of every school year, state law requires someone in Roché-Hicks’ position to disclose these employment relationships and say why they’re legal.

Until recently, Roché-Hicks’ had submitted just two forms, according to state records: one for her son-in-law in 2012 and one for her daughter in January. Her son-in-law and sister have worked for the school system since the fall of 2006. Roché-Hicks’ son-in-law is director of maintenance for Friends of King; her sister is an attendance clerk and hall monitor at Dr. King Charter School.

In August, Roché-Hicks submitted new disclosures regarding her daughter, son-in-law and sister. However, the legal exemption she cited for her son-in-law and sister doesn’t appear to apply.

Says family employment preceded her leadership

Roché-Hicks’ role as CEO of a charter school network can be likened to a superintendent of a school district, according to a Board of Ethics opinion regarding Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger’s employment of her daughter.

In the disclosures filed Aug. 26, Roché-Hicks stated that she is a superintendent and she employs daughter Monique Hicks-Cook, son-in-law Darrin Cook Sr., and sister Iris Roché-Ponson.

On the forms for Cook Sr. and Roché-Ponson, she checked a box indicating that they were “employed by [the] school system or charter school for more than one year prior to my becoming a superintendent, school board member, or charter board member.”

The law does allow longtime employees to continue working if their relative becomes an agency head. But on those forms, Roché-Hicks reports that she became superintendent on Sept. 18, 2006, the same day, she said, that her son-in-law and sister were hired by Friends of King Schools.

Questions to Roché-Hicks and Friends of King attorney Tracie Washington about the discrepancy weren’t immediately answered.

The new ethics disclosure is a departure from what Roché-Hicks stated on on the form she submitted in September 2012 for her son-in-law Darrin Cook Sr.

On that form, Roché-Hicks checked the “other” box for the exemption that allowed his employment. She wrote that he was a “skilled worker previously employed under OPSB.”

There is no such exemption for the relative of a superintendent; the law closest to what she could have been referencing would have exempted Cook Sr. if he were related to a school board member.

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