Charter school CEO submits new ethics disclosures for relatives’ employment

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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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