An assistant superintendent for the Hawaii Department of Education has been fined $1,500 by the Hawaii State Ethics Commission for alleged violations of ethics rules after admitting to the use of department staff and resources for her doctoral dissertation.
Suzanne Mulcahy, assistant superintendent of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support, reached a settlement with the commission in a Jan. 18 agreement, according to a resolution of investigation.
Mulcahy, a former teacher, vice principal and principal who was appointed to her current role in July 2015, used DOE employees and resources to assist in her dissertation on homeless students without first clearing it with the department’s data governance and analysis branch, or DAGA, according to the agreement.
She “used DOE staff to design and conduct an on-line survey of homeless community liaisons with the Homeless Concerns Office,” which is part of OCISS and falls under her supervision, “and interviewed multiple DOE staff,” according to the ethics commission agreement.
“Respondent Mulcahy then used this and other confidential and/or non-public information in her dissertation without obtaining DAGA approval or the written consent of the participants,” the agreement said.
Mulcahy is pursuing a doctorate in educational administration at the University of Hawaii Manoa, according to her biography on the DOE website. It’s not clear when the actions giving rise to the commission’s investigation took place, or how far along she is in obtaining her doctorate.
Mulcahy was enrolled at the school from 2007 to fall 2017, obtaining a master’s degree in educational administration in May 2008, according to UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.
There is no record yet of her having received her doctorate and she is not currently enrolled for the spring semester, he said.
Her doctoral dissertation topic deals with “homeless children in the DOE and the implementation of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in Hawaii public schools,” according to the settlement.
As assistant superintendent of OCISS, Mulcahy oversees development and implementation of DOE policies to advance student learning through accountability metrics, standards-based curriculum and student support. The office is also charged with helping schools meet state and federal mandates.
Through the DOE communications office, Mulcahy declined to comment for this report.
She is a former special education teacher at Pearl City Elementary and also taught in California and Colorado, according to her biography. She also served as a vice principal at Castle High and principal of Kailua Intermediate and was a complex area superintendent in Kailua-Kalaheo.
The DOE learned of the commission’s investigation late last week and has now opened its own, according to spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz.
“The Hawaii State Department of Education considers any complaint that alleges wrongdoing by its employees a serious matter,” Dela Cruz wrote in an email to Civil Beat. “In light of the allegations that are being investigated by the Ethics Commission, the Department has opened its own investigation.”
Mulcahy is still on the job, according to Dela Cruz.
Mulcahy is one of six assistant superintendents in charge of specific areas who are part of DOE’s central leadership under superintendent, Christina Kishimoto. Superintendents select their assistants, and appointments are approved by the Board of Education. Mulcahy was appointed to her role before Kishimoto joined the DOE last August.
The resolution of investigation and settlement agreement constitute admission of facts but not to ethics violations themselves, according to Dan Gluck, executive director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission.
Mulcahy’s $1,500 administrative fine stems from alleged violations of the Fair Treatment Law and Confidentiality Law. The latter bars state workers from using confidential information obtained in a state role while the former bars workers from using their position to obtain private work or to promote a private business purpose.
“It means you have to use your state job and position to do the best work you can for the state of Hawaii and not for personal gain,” Gluck said.
The ethics commission has the enforcement authority to impose administrative fines but not discipline, he said.
The commission receives about 100 complaints a year, many of which are closed for lack of jurisdiction or evidence. Other complaints, which can be delivered anonymously or come in via a formal complaint, may result in a settlement, formal charge or contested case hearing, Gluck said.
In Mulcahy’s case, “it settled prior to a contested case hearing,” he said. “She admitted to certain facts in the resolution itself.”
Read the Hawaii State Ethics Commission Resolution of Investigation of Mulcahy here:
Read the Hawaii State Ethics Commission settlement agreement with Mulcahy here: