TORKELSON COMP. $168,641
Contract $98,000; Benefits $15,000
2nd highest paid of state's 424 admin.
Wis. DPI Supt comp. $121,307
Cost per student Mercer $25,281;
Wis. $12,942; Nation $10,667
Mercer ACT & School Report Card
scores lowest of 21 N. Wis. schools

Monday, June 18, 2018


 

The School Busing Contract

KEEPING MERCER TAXPAYER DOLLARS IN THE FAMILY 

TORKELSON MOTHER-IN-LAW DAUGHTER-IN-LAW
                    $       KELLY KOHEGYI            REBECCA (BARNCARD)
                    $                                               KOHEGYI
                    $                                                     
              N&J BUS SERVICE (OWNED BY DAUGHTER-
                                      IN-LAW’S FAMILY)

Mercer school administrator Erik Torkelson and three of HIS school board lackeyss appear to be getting ready to renew a lucrative busing contract without soliciting a single competing bid or proposal.  And if it happens, the contract will again go to company which has family ties (by marriage) to Torkelson and his mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, who was recently voted off of the school board.
 
At the May school board meeting, Torkelson said he plans to present a new contract with N&J Bus Service at the June 25 meeting. 
When asked by board member Christa Reinert if there are competing proposals, Torkelson said that no other bus companies have asked to bid. 
“Have we advertised it? “Christa asked.
“No we have not,” Torkelson sheepishly replied.
“To keep it on a level playing field we should,” Christa retorted.
No response from Torkelson.
But then If Torkelson did advertise for proposals and bids and a better offer came in, it might keep him from giving the almost $200,000-a-year business to someone other than a relative.  N&J received $191,297 in 2017 and $185,134 in 2016 from the Mercer school district.
Never mind that the bidding process is commonly used by all government and business entities as the surest way to provide for the honest awarding of contracts.  It is designed to prevent using taxpayer dollars to give “sweetheart” deals to, for instance, family members.
Actually, Wisconsin Statute 66.090l, “Public Contract Bids”, outlines the required bidding process which school districts must follow.  The school board’s own policy 6320, Purchasing, requires competitive bids and “at least two price quotations”.
The Mercer School District presently has a five-year transportation contract with N&J which extends through the 2020-2021 school year.  This raises the interesting question of why a new contract now, three years before the present one expires.
Torkelson presented the lame excuse at the May school board meeting that the bus company needs “a minimum of five to seven years out in order to obtain the necessary financing to purchase updated equipment”.
Whoever heard of it taking five to seven years to obtain financing?  Car loans can be obtained in one day, and securing a home loan takes only a few days.  Even businesses can obtain lines of credit in a matter only a few days.
Could it be that Torkelson knows he will soon lose control of the school board when one of his three remaining stooges is recalled or voted out of office?  When this happens he would not be able to give a nice big contract to a family- related firm without any competing proposals and bids.
Sounds like another “sweetheart” deal in the works.                                                                                        

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


A Mercer Mystery
IS THERE A DR. WHO IN THE HOUSE?
British television made popular a long-running, science-fiction series about a Dr. Who.  Mercer residents were beginning to wonder if they don’t have their own version of Dr. Who – not the science-fiction variety.
The confusion has resulted from e-mails sent by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to Mercer School District Administrator Erik Torkelson and addressed to “Dr. Torkelson”.  The DPI’s own records show that Torkelson has a master’s degree, not a doctoral degree.  No one could find a record anywhere of Torkelson having received a doctoral degree.
At one time it was thought that Torkelson had worked on such a degree at one of the University of Wisconsin’s state schools, but did not complete the program, including the required dissertation portion.
Curiously, a $5,505 Mercer school district payment was made on June 15, 2016, to Edgewood College in Madison, which has an on-line program for a doctoral degree in educational leadership.  The program is designed for “educational leaders who work in PK-12 settings”.  Edgewood College accepts the transfer of course credits from other accredited schools.
On another occasion, about $2,000 for textbooks for advanced studies was charged on the Mercer school’s credit card.   If the payment to the college and the textbooks charge were for someone working on a doctoral degree, it raises the question of why Mercer taxpayers should be paying for someone’s college degree work.
Unless we learn otherwise, we will continue to refer to Torkelson as Torkelson and not Dr. Torkelson.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


A Record of Failure
THE ADMINISTRATOR’S REPORT CARD

      SCHOOL                QUALITY
          TAXES             OF EDUCATION
                  
       + 16.3%                  - 22%
                            2010 to 2017

In the business world a CEO with the dismal results of the Mercer School would be given his walking papers.  In the military a commanding officer would be relieved of his command and possibly even court martialed.   But what do you do with a school administrator who continues to mismanage and misspend while depriving the students of a needed and deserved education?

Mercer residents are facing such a dilemma with a school administrator – Erik Torkelson – providing sub-standard educations for Mercer students while hitting taxpayers with record high school taxes.  Since Torkelson was hired in 2010, school taxes have skyrocketed 16.3% while the quality of education – the composite ACT scores – has plummeted by 22%.

By contrast, during the same 2010 to 2017 period, town of Mercer taxes went up a meager .034% under the leadership of former town chairman Jim Kichak.   And this included significant town improvements: street/sidewalk replacement throughout downtown, a new bike path, improved green space along Railroad St., and much more.

Part of the big rise in school taxes resulted from a Community Services Fund 80 budget which Torkelson imposed on taxpayers in 2011 after being hired. Before he was hired, the school’s annual Fund 80 budget averaged $3,225.  In his first year he hit taxpayers for a whopping $257,000 of Fund 80 money.  Since then he has plowed $1,587,000 of taxpayer money into the mostly phony community service programs and into his pocket and the pockets of select staff members.  The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is presently investigating Torkelson for the possible misuse of Fund 80 money.  (See MSF 5/8/18 Time Is Running Out and 4/14/18 DPI Investigating…)

The results Torkelson has produced have been abysmal.  The school’s ACT and DPI School Report Card scores rank it at the bottom of the list of all 21 Northern Wisconsin schools.  Before he was hired by his then future mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, Mercer’s ACT composite scores were in the plus 21 range, the state average.  Under Torkelson the scores went on a slippery slide to where the 2017 ACT composite score was a miserable 16.6.  The DPI School Report Card score of 61.9, “meets few expectations”, placed Mercer in the bottom 20 of the state’s 424 school districts.

At a cost of $25,281 a year for educating each Mercer student, which is twice the state average, and with Torkelson paying himself $168,641 last year, making him the second highest paid administrator in the state, you would expect Mercer students to be the best educated.  Sadly this is not the case.

All of this has happened – the increase in school taxes and the poor educational results – under the “unwatchful” eye of a puppet school board which Torkelson has totally controlled.  But that appears to be changing.

In the recent school board election, Torkelson’s mother-in-law was overwhelmingly voted off the board and replaced by Karl Anderson, a highly respected business leader and former school board member.  Apparently the conflict of interest issue and Kohegyi’s showing of the sexually explicit movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” to young Mercer school girls was too much for Mercer voters to stomach. 

Earlier, voters decided that they had enough of Denise Thompson and booted her off the school board, replacing her with Christa Reinert. 

In striving to eliminate a very corrupt situation, Christa and Karl are confronted by three Torkelson school board members who still do as Torkelson commands.

The next move is up to the citizens of Mercer.  They must remove Torkelson and begin the process of recalling or voting his three misguided supporters -- Deanna Pierpont, Noel Brandt and Micki Pierce-Holstrom --  off the board as their terms expire.  They must be held accountable for this dismal record.  They allowed and condoned it.

(This blog is the result of materials and thoughts from a number of contributors.)

Thursday, May 24, 2018


More Torkelson Arrogance
DECEIT, DECEPTION, DISHONESTY AND DIGUST MAR MAY MEETING
Awarding lucrative contracts without competitive bids and proposals…taking unilateral action without the required Mercer school board discussion or action…keeping vital information concerning a major investigation from board.
These were just more of the actions taken at the May 21 Mercer school meeting which demonstrated the continuing and complete disregard for what is legal and in the best interest of Mercer taxpayer and the students. The assault on propriety was again led by Administrator Erik Torkelson with the support of his gang of three school board members – Deanna Pierpont, Noel Brandt and Micki Pierce-Holstrom.
Take a look at these blatant and possibly illegal actions taken at the May meeting:

·      Torkelson introduced a multi-year transportation (busing) contract without bids or competing proposals and to relatives (by marriage) of himself and his mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, who was just booted off the board by Mercer voters.
Board member Christa Reinert, who along with newly elected Karl Anderson are trying to clean up the Mercer school mess, asked if bids and proposals from other bus companies were solicited.  Torkelson’s answer, “No”.  Christa said that it should be advertised.  But that isn’t likely to happen because then Torkelson could not give the business, which cost taxpayers about $200,000 a year, to someone not closely connected to him.
·        Torkelson also told the school board that he had fired the school district’s legal counsel – again without school board approval -- and he asked that it approve the hiring of another firm.  Of course, his gang of three went along with his demand, but Christa and Karl voted “no”.   Their pleas for competitive bids and proposals were ignored.
The firing of the law firm probably resulted because it had given Torkelson advice he did not want to hear regarding probable legal action against him resulting from a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction investigation.  (See Iron County Miner 5/24/18 Over Objections, Mercer Board Hires New Law Firm) 
·       Torkelson continues to deny the board copies of the materials submitted in response to the DPI’s demand for Fund 80 and contract information.  Christa repeated her request, but Pierpont said that the materials won’t be made available until the DPI issues its report.
With the addition of Karl to the board and the election of Noel Brandt as board president, it was hoped that a corrupt situation could be corrected.  But it was apparent at the May 21 meeting that Brandt and, of course, Pierce, were continuing to take orders from Torkelson and Pierpont.
The next step is for Mercer voters to recall Pierpont to bust up the gang of three.    

Friday, May 18, 2018


 

Another Investigation?


CHARGE CARD, CREDIT PURCHASES REMAIN A MYSTERY– FOR NOW 
Even while facing possible serious consequences for misusing Fund 80 money and excessive pay violations, “someone” in the Mercer school office boldly continues to use a school charge card, make credit purchase at a local food store and gas station, and make on-line Amazon purchases -- all without any explanation as to what is being purchased and by whom.

These purchases have until now been kept secret.  But, school board member Christa Reinert wants to change that by requiring that line item explanations be included in the school’s monthly check payments reports.  Christa’s requests have met with lame excuses by former board president Deanna Pierpont as to why it could not be done.

Pierpont and administrator Erik Torkelson apparently do not want Mercer taxpayers to know who is using the charge card or making credit purchases and identifying what is being purchased.  But Torkelson has lost two of his collaborators because Pierpont is out as board president and Torkelson’s mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, was voted off the board in the recent school board election.

Until now board members have blindly approved the monthly payments without ever asking a single question as to what was purchased and by whom.  That is until Christa raised the issue. Each month the board has approved the payment of up to as many as 175 checks with monthly totals as high as $230,530, with the only information provided being each check’s dollar amount, the date and the vendor.

Most other school districts have banned the use of credit cards and credit purchases because of the high potential for misuse and fraud.  Even the Mercer school’s own auditing firm said that all purchases should be made using purchase orders.

In several school districts, school officials are facing criminal charges for the illegal and personal use of school funds.  One case in particular involves the former superintendent of the Shakopee school district near Minneapolis who is facing dozens of theft and embezzlement charges.  Shakopee school board members are under scrutiny for allowing it to happen. (See MSF 3/4/18 Power to the People)

All credit card and credit purchases in Mercer remain a mystery with no details provided.  For the first three months of 2018, purchases totaling $7,556 were made with an Associated Bank credit card. In 2017, those charges totaled $28,317 and in 2016 they were $26,362.

But what is really eye catching are unidentified on-line purchases from Amazon: $1,889 so far this year; $6,892 in 2017; and $13,890 in 2016. 

Other questionable payments are approved without any explanations as to their purpose.  For instance, someone is charging groceries (and who knows whatever else) at Snow’s Family Market: $1,118 for the first three months of 2018; $1,544 in 2017; and $1,883 in 2016.

 
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction appears to have its hands full investigating Mercer’s possible misuse of Fund 80 and payroll irregularities.  So, perhaps what was done in Shakopee should be done in Mercer and that is let the state’s attorney general’s office and the FBI investigate the Mercer school’s credit card and credit purchases issue.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


Time Is Running Out
IS A MAJOR UPHEAVAL IN THE OFFING?
 
MONDAY, MAY 7, 2018:  A fateful day for Mercer School District Administrator Erik Torkelson because that was the date the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction gave him to prove that Mercer taxpayer Fund 80 money had been used legally and that excessive pay to him and several staff members complied with their employment contracts.
 
The DPI started its investigation on September 22, 2017.  After several failed attempts to obtain documents from Torkelson, the DPI made what appears to be a final demand for numerous documents on April 20, 2018.  (The April 20 demand letter follows this blog.)  The April 20 demand letter contains much of what was requested and not provided by Torkelson in response to a March 12, 2018, DPI letter.  

At the April 23 school board meeting Torkelson falsely said that he had complied “100%” with the demands of the March 12 letter.  Torkelson had supplied a meaningless bunch of documents which was not what the DPI had demanded.  Actually, the documents supporting the legal uses of Fund 80 money and excessive payroll payouts do not exist.

Read the following April 20 DPI demand letter and judge for yourself.




 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


Iron County Miner Weighs In
FUND 80 USES, EMPLOYEE CONTRACTS REMAIN AS MAJOR PROBE ISSUES
In a page one story, the Iron County Miner reported on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s investigation of the Mercer School District’s use of Community Services Fund 80 and employment contracts.
Charges have been leveled that Fund 80 has been grossly misused and the money has flowed into the pockets of Administrator Erik Torkelson and some of his selected staff members. The DPI started the investigation in September, 2017.  Not being satisfied with what it received as a result of several requests for information from Torkelson, the DPI made a major demand for numerous documents in a March 12. 2018, letter. (See MSF 4/25/18 “Pierpont Out As President…”)
Torkelson falsely said at the April 23 school board meeting – and the Miner reported his claim – that he had complied “100%” with the March 12 DPI demand.  But at the April 23 meeting the Miner and the school board members did not have an April 20 follow up DPI letter which clearly shows that Torkelson had not provided the demanded information. 
Torkelson and then school board president Deanna Pierpont had already received the April 20 letter when he falsely said at the April 23 meeting that he had already provided the demanded information.  In the April 20 letter the DPI repeated its demand for documents it had not received in response to its March 12 letter and expanded the list for additions documents.
Torkelson has a dilemma because most of what the DPI is demanding which would support the use of Fund 80 spending by him and supporting employment contract information DOES NOT EXIST.
School board member Christa Reinert asked that the board discuss the DPI demands at an open board meeting.  In her usual manner of covering for Torkelson, board president Pierpont stonewalled the request and said that it shouldn’t be discussed until the DPI makes a final report.

Fortunately for many reasons, Pierpont is out as board president.  New board president Noel Brandt now has an opportunity to do what is right and allow an open discussion regarding the DPI investigation.
Read the following which contains relative page one coverage of the April 23 school board meeting in the Iron County Miner:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


A Disturbing Swan Song
PIERPONT OUT AS PRESIDENT; BRANDT IS IN
Even at her last Mercer School Board meeting as president, Deanna Pierpont couldn’t resist showering a full house audience with a string of misrepresentations.  And Administrator Erik Torkelson added to the misinformation with many distortions of his own.
Noel Brandt was elected board president to replace Pierpont.  Even if Pierpont had not sought reelection as president, her purge was certain as a result of the recent School Board election of Karl Anderson, which was another step in cleaning up the School Board mess.  Karl campaigned on a pledge of board honesty and transparency, and was overwhelming elected to replace Torkelson’s mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, on the board.
Karl was elected the board’s new vice president, while Micki Pierce-Holstrom was elected board clerk and Pierpont was elected treasurer.  Strange that Pierpont was put in charge of managing school funds when there have been mounting questions about misspending and mismanagement during her badly tainted tenure as board president.
That issue also surfacing when School Board member Christa Reinert asked that two letters be discussed regarding demands from the Wisconsin Department of Instruction for information of Community Services Fund 80 abuses and Torkelson pay excesses. (See MSF 4/14/18 Closing In: DPI Investigating…) Pierpont lamely and incorrectly said, “It would not be appropriate to discuss it (the DPI requests) until we have a resolution.” 
But Torkelson said at Monday night’s meeting that he complied “100 percent” with the earlier March 12 DPI request for information.  The DPI’s April 20 follow up request strongly disagreed that Torkelson had complied with the first request. Torkelson also falsely said that the 8-page April 20 DPI letter “outlined the reams of documents they have already received.”
According to the DPI:
“The District provided an inadequate explanation of their use of Fund 80…The District must provide an explanation as to why each Fund 80 expense is not part of the general fund, Fund 10.  A general statement provided by the district… is not adequate documentation as to the Fund 80 cost eligibility.”
Torkelson also completely ignored the DPI demand for his contract and payroll information and for the same information for Lori Boltz, Holly Duensing, Julie Hoffmeister, Adam Kussard, Chris Ranallo and Tricia Thompson.
Torkelson’s attempt to stonewall the DPI apparently did not sit well with the DPI officials because not only did they demand the information they had not received in response to the first letter, but they greatly expanded a demand for additional information in the April 20 letter.
For instance the DPI wants to know, among many other detailed items, why Community Service Fund 80 money was improperly used to:
·        Resurface the school’s floors to the tune of $20,158;

·        Make an unexplained $5,091 purchase from Best Buy;

·        Make another unexplained $10,217 expenditure.
Torkelson has until May 7 to provide the DPI with the information it has demanded.  If Torkelson continues to treat this as a game the DPI is playing, it will probably next end up on the hands of the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the FBI.  Past and present School Board members involved also need to be concerned.

Also at Monday night’s meeting, Christa Reinert, in her continuing attempt to restore transparency, renewed her request for a line item explanation of the school’s monthly expenditures report.  She also asked that video recordings of the monthly meetings be resumed so that Mercer citizens unable to attend meetings can be kept informed. 

With Pierpont out as board president and Torkelson most likely on his way out, Noel Brandt, along with Christa and Karl, have an opportunity to provide Mercer residents with the school information they have long been denied.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Now Is the Time for Change
PIERPONT MUST GO!
How can we expect to provide our Mercer students with an honest education when we have a dishonest Mercer School Board leadership and administration?
This can be changed at this coming Monday night’s School Board meeting if two members of the board – Noel Brandt and Micki Pierce-Holstrom -- recognize their responsibilities for the quality education of our children and to Mercer taxpayers.  In so doing they must throw off the shackles which have bound them to the failed School Board President Deanna Pierpont and Administrator Erik Torkelson.
They must oust Pierpont as board president and set in motion the actions that will remove Torkelson as administrator.  At Monday night’s meeting the board will select its officers for the next 12 months.  That is when they should vote Pierpont out of any board leadership position.  
Mercer voters took the initial steps in trying to clean up the Mercer school mess by electing to the board Karl Anderson in this April’s election and Christa Reinert in the election before.  Karl and Christa have vowed to restore honesty and transparency as well as eliminate misspending and mismanagement. 

Now it is up to Brandt or Pierce to continue the clean-up by standing with Karl and Christa and boot out Pierpont.  Hopefully Brandt and Pierce will each vote for the needed change.
Pierpont further tarnished her already besmirched record in a Letter to the Editor misrepresenting information.  Among the dishonest statements in the letter was that Torkelson’s pay package of $165,641 was based on a salary of $113,500, knowing that it was really $98,000.  She also falsely said that a “group” thinks Mercer should be absorbed by the Hurley School District.  Actually, that “group” consists of her and Torkelson because they are the only ones who, as a scare tactic, have talked about closing the Mercer school.
Pierpont violated School Board policy 143.1 Public Expression of Board Members by not making it clear in the letter, which she signed as president of the Mercer School Board, that her views do not necessarily reflect the views of the board or of her colleagues on the board.
After Pierpont’s removal as board president voters should then to look at recalling her in a special School Board election or certainly not reelecting her when her term expires next spring. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Closing In
DPI INVESTIGATING MERCER FUND 80 MISUSE, TORKELSON PAY EXCESSES
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has demanded that Mercer Administrator Erik Torkelson surrender a massive amount of Fund 80 and payroll records. The investigation stems from complaints concerning the “Community Programs and Services Fund (Fund 80) in 2015-16 and 2016-17.”
The DPI said that it also investigating complaints “alleging that your (Torkelson’s) total salary and benefits are greater than your employment contracts.”  In addition to Torkelson’s compensation being under investigation, the DPI asked for the payroll history for Lori Boltz, Holly Duensing, Julie Hoffmeister, Adam Kussard, Chris Ranallo and Tricia Thompson.
The DPI launched its investigation in 2017 by asking for Fund 80 documentation on September 22, 2017, and October 22, 2017. Apparently not satisfied with what they then received, the DPI demanded voluminous additional documentation.
It has long been contended in Mercer that most of the Fund 80 services were phony and that Torkelson used the Fund as a ”money pot” paying himself and others for work not actually performed.   About 75% of Fund 80 money has flowed into the pockets of Torkelson and the others and not into Fund 80 programs. The DPI asked for an accounting of the hours Torkelson and the others spent on Fund 80 programs.
A major problem for Torkelson is that the historic pay records will show that he improperly tacked Fund 80 pay and benefits on top of the contractual amounts.  The DPI has asked for all of contract for the two years.

For each of the two years being investigated, Torkelson gave himself $161,336 and $168,641 in salary and benefits while his contract was for $98,000 in salary and about $15,000 in benefits.
Before Torkelson was hired in 2011, the annual Fund 80 budget averaged $3,225 a year.  In his first year he hit the taxpayers for $257,000 of Fund 80 money.  Since then he has plowed $1,587,000 of taxpayer money into the mostly phony programs.  The DPI has also asked for detailed information about the programs.

Monday, April 9, 2018


Justice Prevails
 
KARL’S IN, KOHEGYI’S OUT IN MERCER SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION

In an overwhelming victory, Karl Anderson snowed under incumbent Kelly Kohegyi, 420 to 284, for a seat on the five-member Mercer School Board as Mercer residents took another major step in trying to regain control of a runaway School Board and administration.

Karl ran on a platform of restoring honesty and transparency and noted the major need for academic and financial overhauls, both of which are in dire need.

Mercer residents took the initial step in the last election by voting Christa Reinert to the board and booting off Denise Thompson, who was a part of the destructive school board gang.  Since her election, Christa has tirelessly and relentlessly attempted to expose wasteful spending and mismanagement.  For this she has been intimated, harassed and embarrassed by Administrator Erik Torkelson, Board President Deanna Pierpont and Kohegyi.

Christa will now have in Karl Anderson a strong and valuable ally in cleaning up the School Board mess.

Kohegyi was soundly rejected by Mercer residents for numerous displays of bad judgement, including showing the sexually-explicit movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” to young Mercer school girls.  That gave Mercer a big black eye because of the resulting nationwide publicity.

Also weighing heavily on the election outcome is that Kohegyi, as Torkelson’s  mother-in-law, had a huge conflict of interest problem.  She and Pierpont hired Torkelson as administrator with him having no such previous experience.  They enabled him to take home $168.641 in salary and benefits while his contract was for $98,000 in pay and about $15,000 in benefits.

During Torkelson’s tenure the school’s academics records have crashed to where the district is at the bottom of the lists of all 21 northern Wisconsin schools with its ACT and DPI school report card scores. 

Next to go must be Torkelson and Pierpont.