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Ethics Board: Friends of King CEO Doris Hicks, 3 relatives violated nepotism law

The Louisiana Board of Ethics has filed charges against Friends of King Schools CEO Doris Hicks and three relatives after finding them in violation of state law aimed to prevent nepotism.

The board determined Hicks violated two state laws for hiring immediate family members and signing checks made out to them, according to the complaint, filed Oct. 17.

The board has also filed charges against three of Hicks’ relatives — her sister, daughter and son-in-law — who worked for charter school network.

The attorney for the network said Hicks denies the charges.

The state’s ethics administration program oversees the Code of Governmental Ethics.

The origin of the complaint is confidential, said Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen. The charges will to go to the Division of Administrative Law’s Ethics Adjudicatory Board, which  will handle the process.

In 2013, The Lens revealed Hicks had hired six relatives, and at least two of those hirings appeared to violate state law.

In fact, the Ethics Board found that the employment of three relatives violates Louisiana law that states “no member of the immediate family of an agency head shall be employed by his agency.”

Hicks was hired as the principal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward in September 2006. In August 2008, she took on the role of CEO and continued to serve as principal of King. The Friends of King Schools board also runs Joseph A. Craig Charter School in Treme.

In 2012, Hicks hired her daughter, Monique Cook, to do consulting work; Cook received roughly $17,000 for her work. All checks made out to Cook were signed by Hicks, in addition to the principal of King school, which violates state law.

Cook later went on to become a teacher at Craig, but she is covered in that role by an exception that allows immediate family members of the head of a school system to work as a classroom teacher, provided she is state-certified and Hicks doesn’t evaluate her daughter’s performance or participate in any financial transaction with her on behalf of the school.

Cook’s husband, Darrin Cook, was hired by the network in 2006 as head custodian of Dr. King school. Spouses of children also fall under the “immediate family” designation under state law. Between the 2010-11 and 2013-14 school years, he received $182,530 in pay, according to the Ethics Board filing.

Hicks’ sister, Iris Ponson, received about $86,000 over four years as a hall monitor.

A hearing will be conducted to assess the penalties against the four, according to the complaints.

The board’s attorney, Tracie Washington, said she doesn’t comment to The Lens.

Washington told the Times-Picayune that Hicks “vigorously denies” the charges.

Hicks could face a fine of up to $10,000, demotion, suspension and/or reduction in pay. Between Aug. 2, 2010 and June 2014 Hicks earned $540,768, according to the filing.

There is no specific time frame for cases of this nature, Allen said. Similar charges brought against school leader Paulette Bruno in 2012, for employing and promoting her daughters-in-law are still pending, Allen said.

Allen said an initial telephone conference is generally held within a month or two of charges being filed.

Read the document accusing Doris Hicks of violating nepotism law

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • nickelndime

    Tracie Washington, Esq. no longer responds to THE LENS because she is still ##%^*&*()) upset, when in 2013, Jessica Williams (reporter) investigated the nepotism allegations and brought all of it (quite skillfully, I might add) to the level of public awareness. And I may still have that link of the documents that Ms. Williams (and THE LENS) obtained and posted. Sometimes life is a !3&&)^%^88CH!

  • Green

    Unethical behavior is deeply entrenched in the charters, and so many of the CEO’s practice this behavior, but the state refuse to bring charges against them. Charging Dr.Hicks and her entourage with this allegation will hopefully send a message to other operators that this practice will not be tolerated.

  • nickelndime

    If charters (and CMOs) wish to remain protected (and it does appear they are well insulated), then it is in their (and other non-profit charter boards’) best interests to remain under State control by the RSD, and is therefore, one of the best reasons not to return to local control. Based on State law, the RSD isn’t going away anytime soon (maybe 2025), and certainly not until it has milked the 1.8 billion dollar federal cow, called “Building Construction” dry and it keels over dead. The RSD does not answer to BESE – it should, but it doesn’t. In fact, Pastorek did such a fantastic job at manipulating “The dumb OR the greedy, powerful” Louisiana legislators, that the RSD controls itself and answers to no one. This is the nest for the corruption we are seeing in the charters. If we are going to attack the corruption, we need to get it at the State level.

  • nickelndime

    The “Frankenstein” RSD (not BESE and not the State Superintendent of Education) controls school building leases (campuses), thanks to Louisiana legislators, the former State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, the rubber-stamp state board of education – BESE, and powerful and wealthy individuals like Leslie Jacobs – “charter” guru and the “architect” (and I am not saying this in a good way) of Louisiana Educational Accountability. So, if we are going to talk about entrenchment and corruption, we need to at least be aware of the sources. If Friends of King, Inc. allowed CEO Doris Hicks to violate governmental ethics codes (nepotism) and did nothing, then the non-profit board should resign and put in all new board members, like what happened over at Lycee. Tracie Washington, Esq. may be working pro bono for all we know. Given her level of interest in the school(s), I certainly would like to think she is working pro bono and not running up the “billable hours” like Adams and Resse LLP did with Lycee. Washington vigorously denies that Hicks did anything wrong. Great! Wonderful! But if she did, then this board must be vacated, and people like John White and Caroline Roemer Shirley better get themselves over by the “Friends” just like they did for Lycee. Or else, I am going to start yelling discrimination and unequal treatment. For starters!

  • will_k2

    Do you have evidence, or is this just slander?

  • will_k2

    Yeah, corruption in New Orleans schools is totally a product of RSD. Certainly no evidence of corruption under the old OPSB, right? LOL at your never-ending rambling diatribes, nickel.