Friends of King Schools has provided contracts showing that CEO Doris Roché-Hicks didn’t sign employment agreements for three of her relatives, apparently clearing her from one set of legal concerns. But discrepancies between different versions of the same documents raise questions about their integrity.

Officials with the public charter-school system did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the variation between copies of contracts and the originals, nor did they confirm that some campus leaders who signed the contracts were authorized by the charter board to do so.

Roché-Hicks employs six relatives at Friends of King’s two schools. Three are considered immediate family; the employment of two of them appears to violate state ethics law.

One law bars the leaders of public agencies from hiring their immediate relatives unless one of several specific exemptions applies. Another law bans any public servant from participating in a financial transaction involving the public agency and an immediate family member.

That second law means that even if the employment of Roché-Hicks’ sister, daughter and son-in-law is allowed, Roché-Hicks would not have been allowed to sign their employment contracts.

The Lens asked for those relatives’ contracts, and it appears that Roché-Hicks avoided that secondary legal entanglement on the contracts provided. The first matter of employing immediate family members remains an open issue.

The Lens’ original request, for copies of those contracts, was submitted the day we published a story about Roché-Hicks’ relatives. Later, The Lens asked to review the originals. State public-records law enables citizens to see originals and request copies.

Not all copies match the originals in various ways, but the signatures are consistent.

The contracts show signatures by the charter board president, the high school principal and the district’s human-resources manager, but their names are not printed below the signature line, as is common on other employment contracts reviewed by The Lens.

Roché-Hicks did not sign any contracts for her relatives, based on the documents provided. However, school officials did not provide copies of employment contracts for the current year.

The Friends of King school board runs Dr. King Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward and Joseph A. Craig Charter School in Treme.

Contracts raise questions

Copies of employment contracts for Roché-Hicks’ relatives, which The Lens requested on Aug. 9 and received Aug. 26, were in some cases different from original contracts for relatives that we reviewed on Sept. 4.

For instance, a copy of the 2012-13 contract for Lawrence Cook III, the brother of Roché-Hicks’ son-in-law, shows that King principal Lindsey Moore signed and wrote by hand a date of July 9, 2012.

But the document provided as the original, inspected and photographed by a reporter, has Moore’s signature and two rubber-stamped dates of Aug. 22, 2011 — nearly a year before the contract would have gone into effect. Cook works as a janitor at Craig school; board officials did not respond to requests for comment on why a principal at one campus would sign the contract for an employee at another.

The same set of double-stamped dates also appears next to Moore’s signature on the contract for Darrin Cook Sr. for the 2011-12 school year. He’s Roché-Hicks’ son-in-law.

The Lens received no response when we asked Friends of King officials to explain which school officials are authorized to sign contracts. Typically, a board must authorize people to sign contracts that bind the board.

Nothing in the law prevents Roché-Hicks from signing the employment contract for her son-in-law’s brother because he isn’t considered her immediate family member.

That’s not the only instance in which copies don’t match originals.

A copy of a 2007-08 employment offer letter for Roché-Hicks’ sister, Iris Roché-Ponson, bears the printed name of Friends of King human resources manager Judy Collins, but Collins didn’t sign the letter. However, Collins’ signature was present on the original offer letter, which the Lens reviewed more than a week later.

Friends of King officials also provided The Lens with what they say were the original 2006-07 contracts for Cook Sr. and Roché-Ponson. Their addresses are blacked out in marker. Board officials did not respond to inquiries asking whether it’s standard practice to mark up original documents.

On another document presented as an original, that of Darrin Cook Sr.’s 2007-08 employment offer letter, his signature has been covered over with Wite-Out.

Mismatched copies and originals, as well as marked-over originals, raise questions about the integrity of the documents provided. It’s a crime to alter public records.

Board attorney Tracie Washington, who serves as the media contact for the board, provided all of the public records. But board president Young is ultimately responsible for all operations of the board.

Because no school official would say who typically signs contracts, The Lens filed another records request and examined 24 randomly selected employment contracts.

Roché-Hicks signed 13, for Craig and King employees.

Moore signed five; on two of those, he penned his signature above Roché-Hicks’ printed name. Moore signed contracts for both King and Craig employees, although Ora Wiley is Craig’s principal.

Friends of King board President Hilda Young signed five contracts for central office, King and Craig employees. On three of those contracts, she signed her name above Roché-Hicks printed name.

Daughter’s contracting work not fully documented

On disclosures filed with the state Ethics Board, Roché-Hicks wrote that her daughter, Monique Hicks-Cook, was employed on Jan. 7, 2013. Friends of King provided a 2012-13 contract to The Lens with a Jan. 8, 2013 start date. Hicks-Cook works with special-education students at Craig.

However, a memo dated two months before that, on Nov. 27, 2012, obtained by The Lens asks teachers to notify Hicks-Cook before recommending that an in-school suspension be given to a special-needs student.

When The Lens pointed this out to Washington and reiterated its request for all original employment contracts and agreements for relatives, Washington provided a copy of an engagement agreement, dated Aug. 1, 2012, that contracted with Hicks-Cook as a special education consultant. Board President Young, not Roché-Hicks, signed the agreement.

The engagement agreement was for three months; Washington provided no documents to show that Hicks-Cook’s consulting contract was extended, though the in-school suspension memo shows she was involved in decisions at Craig four months after the start date. Informed by email of this lack of documentation, Young did not respond.

Hicks-Cook’s work as a contractor for Friends of King appears to qualify for an exemption to a law that otherwise says she couldn’t work at a school system where her relatives are employed. It makes an exception for people hired “for professional services for an elementary or secondary school.”

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...