SCHOOL FACTS
Cost per student Mercer $25,097,
Wis. $13,505, Nation $11,762
ACT comp. score Mercer 17.0,
Wis. 19.6, Lakeland UHS 20.0,
Hurley 18.7; perfect score 36.0
Mercer DPI Report Card score
lowest of all 421 Wis. districts






Thursday, March 26, 2020


VOTE FOR SUE LOTH, JEFF NEHRING and HANK JOUSTRA
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

A Record of Failures

THE PIERPONT LEGACY


Many people work to leave behind a legacy of good deeds.  This makes you wonder what kind of legacy Deanna Pierpont will leave behind.  Will her staunch support of the failed administration of Erik Torkelson be her legacy and a part of the history of the Mercer School?


Pierpont was a school board member and at times board president during Torkelson’s eight-year reign of mismanagement and misspending.  She did not seek reelection last April but is now trying a comeback in the April 7 school board election so that she can help return Torkelson to his former position. Torkelson has been out on medical leave since last June, but now appears attempting a comeback.  


The dismal record of Torkelson’s administration, which Pierpont supported every step of way, is now a part of her legacy.  It includes:


·        A pathetic academic record which places the Mercer school at the very bottom of a list of the state’s 421 school districts with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s School Report Card.  Mercer was the only school with a Report Card score of 66.8, “meets no expectations”.  Also, the Mercer school’s composite ACT score has consistently been well below both the state averages and the averages of all 20 northern Wisconsin school districts. 

·        The misspending of thousands of taxpayer dollars as documented by the    DPI.  The DPI cited the school district for misusing $185,465 of Community Service Fund 80 during two school years.  It probably would have found much greater amounts had it audited other years.  This cost the Mercer School District about $125,000, including legal fees, to settle the DPI claim. 


·        A test cheating scandal which resulted in two teachers surrendering their licenses.  Again, the DPI failed to complete its investigation which might have indicated if any other parties were involved. 
  

·        A failure to discipline a teacher and school board member for showing the sexually explicit movie Fifty Shades of Grey to young Mercer schoolgirls.  The shocking incident received statewide –in fact, nationwide – notoriety.  Print, broadcast and social media were saturated with telling how the decadent incident unfolded. 


·        Allowing Torkelson to pay himself thousands of dollars in excess of his contractual amounts. One calculation estimated that he paid himself at least $160,000 more than he should have received during his eight-year reign.  In most years his take-home pay package was in excess of $150,000 while his contract was for a base salary of $98,000 plus about $30,000 in benefits.  


·        Taking no disciplinary action when Torkelson was found guilty in a faked hacking scheme and ordered to pay $5,340 in penalties, attorney fees and court costs.  The judge ruled that Torkelson had violated the law by not producing a public record, which was part of the faked hacking scheme.  


·        Pierpont was criminally charged by the Iron County district attorney with   destroying a public record, a video recording of the infamous October 2017 annual school district meeting.  She was also criminally charged, along with two then present and two former school board members, with sending a letter with false information to the DPI.  The charges were mysterious dismissed by former Judge Patrick Madden without the normally required judicial proceedings.

·        Bullying and intimidation of school board members, candidates for the school board and citizens critical of the administration. 


·        Being part of the February 2013 tax issue referendum fraud when voters were lied to and told that their school taxes would increase $11 per $100,000 assessed property valuation but actually resulted in a $137 increase.  


These issues are a part of the Pierpont legacy. They are all good reasons not to help her add to this legacy by voting her back on the school board on April 7. 


THE MERCER SCHOOL FACTS MISSION
Its purpose is to report news and information – facts – about Mercer School Board and Administration issues and overall school academic performance.  It is intended to keep Mercer citizens aware of the management and inner workings of the school.  It is not a school newspaper; therefore, it will not report school sports events or individual student or teacher activities/accomplishments.  MSF pledges that all news reports will be thoroughly researched and supported by school, state and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction documentation.

Thursday, March 19, 2020


VOTE FOR SUE LOTH, JEFF NEHRING AND HANK JOUSTRA
__________________________________________________________________

Mercer School’s Bold Actions

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING


Mercer School Administrator Sheri Kopka and the present School Board have shown that they have what it takes to confront even the most difficult of situations.  They have taken bold actions regarding the dangers facing all of us by the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) epidemic.  


Even before Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers ordered the closing of all schools in the state, Kopka announced that the Mercer School would be closed as the students came back off a one-week spring break beginning on Monday, March 16, through Monday, April 6.  It now appears that the school closing may be extended even beyond that April 6 date.

 Kopka and her staff were quick to “move forward with plans and processes that will facilitate the continuing education process for our students,” said School Board President Bob Davis in an open letter to “students, parents and community members of Mercer”. 


The comprehensive plan includes the distribution of books and technology so the students can work from home.  Teachers will teach on-line, and students will be required to complete work each day.


While picking up and delivering homework and school supplies by bus, meals will also be provided for those students who request them.  This also will be an option for students who may not have the internet and need paper packets.  


“We will continue to work together as a team and partner with the community in all ways feasible to maintain the high level of transparency that is established and required of the board,” Davis promised.


None of this – the quick action, teamwork and open communications – would probably have happened under the previous administration and former school board.  


Mercer residents need to read the letters from Kopka and Davis on the school’s website – www.mercer.k12.wi.us. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020


MERCER SCHOOL CLOSED

Monday, March 16, through Monday, April 6,

due to Covid 19 virus (Coronavirus).  For details see letter from Sheri Kopka, administrator, on school website – www.mercer.k12.wi.us.

Thursday, March 12, 2020


VOTE FOR SUE LOTH, JEFF NEHRING AND HANK JOUSTRA
_______________________________________________________________________________________

Beware, Mercer Citizens

THE CONSPIRACY THEORY


Just when Mercer residents were beginning think that many of the Mercer School problems were behind them, an ugly conspiracy seems to be in the offing.  It involves an attempt to return Administrator Erik Torkelson to power.






Who appears to be heading the conspiracy?  None other than the person who must share responsibility for Mercer School’s failures – Deanna Pierpont.  Pierpont was part of the clique responsible for hiring Torkelson although he had absolutely no experience or qualifications as an administrator.  And during his eight-year reign of mismanagement, she supported him every step of the way.  All that time she was on the Mercer School Board and served part of the time as board president. 


Pierpont did not seek re-election to the school board when her term expired last April – something for which Mercer residents were thankful.  It appears that now she has teamed up with Brian Baltz to return Torkelson to power, and both are running for the school board in the April 7 election.  


Baltz is a known Torkelson friend and ally.  He was the best man at Torkelson’s marriage to Joy Kohegyi, daughter of former board member Kelly Kohegyi.   Torkelson removed a longtime loyal office staff member and made her a janitor in order to give the office position to Baltz’s wife, Jennifer.  


An almost new school board – four of the five members are new since last Spring – and an interim administrator have been cleaning up the mess left behind by Torkelson – and Pierpont.  Torkelson reportedly had a stroke last June.  He has been out on medical leave since but is now trying to return to his former position as the Mercer School administrator.


Pierpont appears to have recruited the same cronies who supported Torkelson while he mismanaged the school.  They have been circulating falsehoods such as, “Kopka (Interim Administrator Sheri Kopka) is doing a horrible job.  Discipline is non-existent, students are controlling the school, and teachers are unable to teach.”  


Of course, none of this is true -- just the opposite.  Parents and teachers are praising Kopka for developing a positive culture which is the opposite of the Torkelson culture of intimidation and bullying.


False attacks also have been made against the new school board which, for the first time in eight years, is discussing school finances, academic performance, futures plans, etc. in the open.  


(Next: a look at the failures Pierpont is responsible for by supporting Torkelson.)

Thursday, March 5, 2020


Important Work Takes Time


ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY


This expression functions as a plea to be patient. For example, Mercer citizens need to be patient as the new school board struggles to correct eight years of mismanagement by former Administrator Erik Torkelson and as it discusses ways to terminate his employment. 


“To discuss administrator leave status, and to potentially take action regarding same” is an entry appearing with greater frequency on the school board’s meeting agendas.  It was there again for a Wednesday night special meeting. 


These discussions are held in “closed session,” which means that the public cannot attend and that board members are prohibited, by law, from discussing what transpires.  As in the past, the school board returned to open session after its closed session Wednesday evening and reported that “no action was taken.” 


This makes sense.  Terminating Torkelson is complicated.  The board must consider the consequences it faces if a correct and legal process is not followed.  For this the board appears to be using the legal firm hired earlier and has paid that firm such amounts as $9,104.94 in January and $4,197.50 in November, just to mention two months.


Further complicating the situation is that by firing Torkelson while on medical leave could open the school district to a discrimination lawsuit.

Torkelson has a contract which is automatically renewable every two years, but he must file an acceptance statement each time.  Whether this was done is in question. 


However, it would seem that the board has enough evidence to terminate Torkelson under “Section II Duties” of his contract.  That section requires that he “perform at a professional level of competence the services, duties and obligations required by the laws of the State of Wisconsin and the job description, policies, procedures and handbooks of the Board.”  The school’s failed academic performance and the documented wasted and misspent school funds would seem to justify terminating him under the “duties” requirement of his contract. 


Meanwhile, the board has been struggling with such other tasks as restating the school district’s finances which had been used improperly.  The restatement of the finances was required as a part of a settlement of a $185,465 claim by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction that Torkelson had misused Community Services Fund 80.  


The finances and removal of Torkelson are just two of the issues with which the school board has been confronted.  So, as you can see, the board has its plate full.

Meanwhile, Mercer citizens, be patient.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


A Step in the Right Direction

ANOTHER WIN FOR FREEDOM OF INFORMATION – WELL, ALMOST


Progress was made at Monday night’s Mercer School Board meeting toward allowing Mercer residents greater access to information about how the school is being managed.  The school board agreed to vote at its March meeting whether to restore the video recording of its monthly meetings and placing them on the school’s website.  


Mercer residents have been deprived of viewing board meetings since October 2017 when then board President Deanna Pierpont ruled that she would no longer allow the public to view video recordings of the meetings.  Until then videos of the meetings were routinely posted on the school’s website.


In fact, Pierpont was criminally charged in Iron County Circuit Court with destroying the video recording of the infamous October 2017 annual school district meeting.  The charges were subsequently dismissed under strange circumstances by then Circuit Court Judge Patrick Madden.


Even before Pierpont denied the peoples’ right to view the meetings, the public was allowed very little information about how the school was being mismanaged by former Administrator Erik Torkelson.  When Pierpont decided not to seek reelection last April and Torkelson was placed on medical leave in June, things began to improve substantially – and the public was allowed greater access to information.


The change has been was brought about by an almost entirely new school board headed by President Bob Davis and new Administrator Sheri Kopka.  “Almost entirely new school board”, that is, except from one holdover from the former Torkelson/Pierpont clique, Micki Holmstrom. Holmstrom wisely decided not to seek re-election in the coming April school board election.  Much to the public’s chagrin, Pierpont wants to be elected back on the board in the April election. 


Discussion at the February meeting about the video recording seemed to favor allowing Mercer residents more access to school information.  All eyes will be on the March 23 meeting to see if it really happens.

Friday, February 14, 2020


A First

SCHOOL SEEKS COMMUNITY INPUT


After eight years of almost nothing but bad news coming out of the Mercer School – pathetic ACT and School Report Card scores, the misuse of school funds, teachers surrendering their licenses in a test cheating investigation, and more – finally comes some more good news.


Good news began to surface last June after former Administrator Erik Torkelson went on medical leave and a new administrator and an almost entirely new school board took charge.  Among the corrective actions was the restating of the school district’s financials to correct the misspending of thousands of taxpayer dollars.


And the new administrator, Sheri Kopka, has implemented some long-overdue positive actions, including setting up a Mercer School Strategic Planning Committee.  The idea is not new.  It was proposed before by an early candidate for the school board, Paul Juske, and again suggested by former school board members Christa Reinert and Karl Anderson.


But Torkelson would have no part of it.  He did not even allow school board members, which he controlled, to offer suggestions. The idea of having community members becoming involved in school issues was repugnant to him.


What would seem to be in defiance to Torkelson’s autocratic rule, Kopka wrote in a letter to Mercer Community Members: “It is important that we hear from as many stakeholders in our community as possible and we sincerely appreciate your engagement and more importantly respect your candor as we move through this process…Every person’s voice and participation is important in developing our priorities and making progress on our goals and objectives.”


The Strategic Planning Committee has held four sessions to date.  It has been working on the school’s mission.  As a part of its work, the committee will follow through with “vision, values and strategic priorities”.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020


Missing an Opportunity

A CASE FOR VIDEO RECORDING SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS


The Mercer School Board appears to be missing out on a big opportunity, and that is by not letting the public know that it is conducting much of the school’s business in open and productive meetings. This was never allowed in the eight years during former Administrator Erik Torkelson’s reign.


But there is a simple remedy for letting the public know about the new enlightening way in which school business is being conducted.  That would be to resume video recording of the meetings and placing them on the school’s website.


The January 27 meeting of the School Board is a perfect example of why this needs to be done.   Many substantive issues were discussed in the two-hour long meeting (excluding an additional one and one-half hour closed session) with only about a dozen people in attendance.


Of course, more citizens should have enough interest in the education of the children and how their school tax dollars are being spent and attend the meetings.  But for those not inclined or unable to attend the meetings, the video recordings would be a good solution. 


Many Mercer citizens are skeptical that school affairs could ever be fully conducted in the open.  And they should be.  After all, when Torkelson ruled over the School Board the public was rarely allowed to know what was really happening – with his mismanagement and misspending.


But Torkelson is no longer in charge.  He is out on medical leave and the new School Board appears to be working on ways to make sure that he is not allowed back in the school.  Hence the closed sessions.


We have a new interim administrator, Sheri Kopka, and an almost all new School Board who are aggressively attacking the problems Torkelson created and setting the school on a positive path.  There is only one holdover board member who was part of the Torkelson/Pierpont clique, Micki Holmstrom, but she will be gone this April.  Pierpont, of course, is Deanna Pierpont, who was a major player in the school’s failing performance.  After not seeking reelection to the board last April, sadly enough, Pierpont is now seeking to be elected back on the board in this coming April’s election.  Hopefully, Mercer voters are wise enough to not vote her back in. 


The new School Board, with Bob Davis as president, is now discussing school affairs – finances, academic performance, futures plans, etc. --- in the open.  It has held closed sessions, and is legally required to do so, “to discuss administrator leave status, and to potentially take action regarding same.”


Until October 2017 School Board meetings, even though very little of substance was discussed in the open, were routinely video recorded and placed on the school’s website.  Then, Pierpont and Torkelson stopped the video recordings because the public was seeing and hearing too much of what was happening – or maybe we should say, too much of what was not happening.


So, the skeptics should give the new administrator and School Board a chance to demonstrate that they are working diligently to correct the many past problems and set a positive future course.  The ability to view meetings on the school’s website would go a long way in helping the public know this is happening.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


School Board Inaction

A FAILING GRADE


Just when it was beginning to seem like the new Mercer School Board was decisive and willing to take bold actions comes a big disappointment.


It happened at Monday night’s meeting when the board failed to take the long overdue and much needed action of terminating Administrator Erik Torkelson.  After an hour and one-half closed door session “to discuss administrator leave status, and to potentially take action regarding same”, it reconvened to report “no action taken.”


Torkelson has been out on medical leave since last June.  The school board  disappointingly failed to terminate him at several previous meetings.


Granted, terminating Torkelson is not a simple matter.   (See MSF 1/25/20 Dismantling an Autocracy)  But his record of failure is well documented.


Also complicating the matter is his medical leave status.  Firing him while he is on medical leave could result in a lawsuit.  In any event the school board needs to “bite the bullet” and end eight years of mismanagement and misspending.  Even some sort of cash settlement would result in a savings compared with if he is allowed back in the school.


The board seemed to be on the right track with the hiring of Sheri Kopka as interim administrator, restating the financials and taking other positive actions.


Now is not the time to reverse that trend.  

Thursday, January 23, 2020


Dismantling an Autocracy

JANUARY 27:  A CRUCIAL DATE


By now the Mercer School Board must realize, as do most Mercer residents, that former Administrator Erik Torkelson must be permanently terminated.  The new board has had at least seven months of trying to clean up the academic, administrative and financial mess Torkelson left behind.  (He has been out on medical leave since last June.)


The school board may not need to act regarding Torkelson’s employment status if a legal contract does not exist.  And that may just be the case.  The deciding factor is whether Torkelson had submitted an acceptance letter to the school board for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 contract period, which would have been required before April 1, 2019. 


Under Wisconsin Statute 118.24, School District Administrator, the term of a district administrator’s contract may not exceed two years.  If a school board does not give notice of renewal or refusal to renew a contract, it continues in force for another two years.  No such notice was given to Torkelson when the contact’s term expired at the end of June 2019, so it was automatically extended another two years until June 2021.


However, as pointed out, the catch is that the administrator must accept or reject the contract three months before the expiration date.  For the contact period 2017-18 and 2018-19 Torkelson did submit an acceptance letter to the board on March 29, 2017. 
  

If, for some reason, the school board is concerned that Torkelson may have a legitimate contract, then it has other means for terminating him.  One way involves dismissing him on the basis that, as required in his contract, he failed “to perform at a professional level of competence the services, duties and obligations” required by Wisconsin laws and the school’s job description, policies and procedures.  That should be easy to prove based on the school’s failed academic results and the documented misuse of school funds.


The other method involved board action which must be taken at its January 27 meeting.  


Wisconsin Statute 118. 24 says that a school board can refuse to renew an administrator’s contract, but it must give notice that it intends to do so five months prior to the expiration of a contract, or before February 1 in Torkelson’s case.  The administrator then has seven days to request a private or public hearing.  


If a school board then decides to proceed with the action to not renew it must give the administrator a formal notice at least four months before expiration of the contract, or by March 1 in Torkelson’s case.


So, here’s the schedule the board must follow in getting rid of Torkelson:

·        Do nothing if the school’s attorney determines that there is not a legal contract in force. 

·        OR, if Torkelson has a legal contract, remove him on the basis that he failed “to perform at a professional level of competence.”

·        OR, before February 1 – serve Torkelson with a notice that it intends to not renew his contract.

·        Before March 1 – serve him with the official notice that it will not renew his contract.

·        July 1 – Rejoice that the school has cleansed itself of the mismanagement and misspending that prevailed for eight years.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020


Mercer’s School Board Election

SOME GOOD AND SOME BAD CHOICES


Mercer voters will have some easy and not-so-easy decisions to make in the Spring School Board election.  The easy part is reelecting Sue Loth and Jeff Nehring.  The difficult part is who to select from the remaining three candidates for the other open board seat.


The two candidates receiving the most votes will fill three-year terms.  The third candidate in line with the number of votes will receive a one-year term. 


Reelecting Loth and Nehring is an easy choice.  They were appointed after last Spring’s election to fill board seat vacancies.  They have joined wholeheartedly in helping Board President Bob Davis and board member Jim Hannemann in cleaning up the mess left behind by former Administrator Erik Torkelson.  
  

The voter dilemma is who to select for the third open board position.  They must choose between Deanna Pierpont, Brian Baltz and Henry (Hank) Joustra.   The case has already solidly been made NOT to vote for Pierpont.  (See MSF 5/9/20 The Candidates)


It would seem that Baltz would not be a good choice either.  Just when the board is wrestling with how to terminate Torkelson, who is out on medical leave, Baltz might interfere with that decision.  He is a known Torkelson friend and ally, as is Pierpont.  With the two of them on the board it could become difficult to get rid of the failed administrator.  


Baltz was the best man at Torkelson’s marriage to Joy Kohegyi, daughter of former board member Kelly Kohegyi.   Torkelson removed a longtime loyal office staff member and made her a janitor in order to give the position to Baltz’s wife, Jennifer.  Torkelson also gave lucrative contracts to Baltz (about $20,000 worth) for dubious teaching programs Brian Baltz had developed.  With this Baltz/Torkelson connection it would seem that Baltz would not vote for the much-needed permanent removal of his pal, Torkelson. 


That leaves  candidate Henry Joustra.  He operates a plumbing business and is active in community affairs.  He is president of the Mercer Chamber of Commerce and the Mercer Sno-Goers. 


At this time, it is unknown what position Joustra would take on the removal of Torkelson or what support he would give in restoring sound academic and financial programs at the school.  Only time will tell.  

Thursday, January 9, 2020


The Candidates

5 FILE FOR 3 SCHOOL BOARD SEATS


Five Mercer citizens have filed for three Mercer School Board positions in the April election.  They are incumbents Sue Loth and Jeff Nehring, along with Brian Boltz, Henry Joustra and Deanna Pierpont.


First the good news.  Micki Holmstrom, the last remaining member of former Administrator Erik Torkelson’s reign, chose not to seek reelection.  This is extremely good news for the Mercer School, the students, parents and staff and the entire Mercer community.  It was Holmstrom, along with the other members of the clique – Kelly Kohegyi, Denise Thompson, Noel Brandt and Deanna Pierpont -- who gave unwitting and unconscionable support to Torkelson as thousands of dollars of taxpayer money was being wasted and misspent while the students were deprived of the education they needed.  


Holmstrom and the other four Torkelson minions backed the failed administrator as ACT scores plummeted and the Mercer School placed 422 out of the state’s 422 school district with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s School Report Card score.  


And now for the bad news.  Deanna Pierpont has filed to regain a seat on the school board.  She had been a longtime board member until she decided not to seek reelection in the Spring 2019 election. The Mercer School was blessed by her decision then not to run and is cursed now with her attempt to get back on the board.  


She was one of the signers, along with Kohegyi, Torkelson’s mother-in-law, in hiring him in 2011 without him having the qualifications or any experience as an administrator.  That was the first of many bad decision Pierpont made.  


Progress is now being made by the new administrator, Sheri Kopka, Board President Bob Davis and three other new board members. (Excluding Pierce-Holmstrom, of course.) This progress must not be reversed by electing Pierpont, who has already demonstrated that she has failed to serve the best interests of the school, the students and the community.


(More later about the other candidates.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


Going Where It Didn't Belong

MERCER TOWN BOARD TOLD TO SIT IN THE CORNER


The Mercer Town Board went where it did not belong,  poking its nose into a strictly Mercer School issue and  being taken to task for it.  The incident involved a  school fracas which the Town Board attempted to discuss in an open meeting, and which possibly would have been in violation of federal and state laws.  


It seems that some students got into the fracas at the school.  The Mercer School Board was properly handling the matter when the Town Board decided to get involved.  It is uncertain who on the Town Board wanted the matter discussed, but Town Chairman John Sendra usually makes those decisions.


“It blew my mind,” was the response of Mercer School Board President Bob Davis that the Town Board had considered the matter.  “Anything happening in the school could potentially become a student record which is protected by federal law, by a number of laws,” Davis said at the School Board’s December 16 meeting.


“Having the Town Board commenting on an incident happening in the school is a very bad place to go,” Davis added. “Any incident that occurs at the school will be handled properly and that particular incident was handled properly.  I have a lot of confidence in the system here as being able to handle such situations.”   


Even Town Board Supervisor Erik Snow was miffed that the subject was brought up at a Town Board Meeting.  Snow, an Iron County deputy sheriff, was reported to have lectured the other Town Board supervisors by saying that addressing the issue was totally improper and out of place.

Monday, December 30, 2019


TOP NEWS STORIES OF 2019

2019 WAS AN EXCEPTIONAL YEAR WHICH SAW MANY IMPORTANT AND UNUNUSAL NEWS EVENTS COME OUT OF THE MERCER SCHOOL DISTRICT.  THESE INCLUDED:

·       The worst Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction School Report Card score in the state and dismal ACT test results.

·       The medical leave replacement of Administrator Erik Torkelson with an interim administrator.

·       An almost complete and needed change in school board membership.

·       Criminal felony charges against three present and two former school board members, only to be mysteriously dismissed.

·       Two teachers surrendered their licenses in the aftermath of a DPI test cheating investigation.

·       Settlement of a $185,465 DPI claim that the administration had misused Fund 80 money.

HERE’S WHERE TO FIND THESE NEWS STORIES AND MORE.

                        *                              *                              *

MERCER’S NEW SCHOOL REPORT CARD SCORE

Two years ago, an astute Mercer citizen was verbally – and physically – attacked for calling the school district’s dismal ACT scores “pathetic.”  What would happen to him now if he appropriately classified the just-announced 2018-19 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction School Card score for Mercer as “TRAGIC”?  But that’s what it is.

For the third consecutive year the Mercer School District’s Report Card score hit rock bottom. And for the most recent 2018-19 school year the Mercer School District stands all alone at the VERY BOTTOM of the state’s 421 school districts with a score of 50.4 -- fails to meet expectations.  No other school district is listed in the last place category of fails to meet expectations.  (11/12/19)

                    *                              *                              *

MERCER AGAIN NEAR LAST PLACE WITH ITS ACT SCORE

The just announced 2018-19 Mercer School ACT composite score, as well as those going back at least five years, reflect on a failed administration and an ineffective former school board.  But it gives the new school board and new administrator the opportunity to fix a badly broken situation.

From the time former Administrator Erik Torkelson was hired by his mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, in 2011, the school’s ACT scores have been in the cellar. Mercer’s composite score has never reached the state average for all the 422 school districts.

Mercer placed 19th in the latest list of 20 northern Wisconsin school districts with an abysmal ACT composite score of 17 for 2018-19.  In the year before, 2017-18, it was in 14th place with an 18.4 score and in 2016-17 it was in very last place with a 16.6 score.  (9/28/19) 

                        *                              *                              *

ACT PROFICIENCY RESULTS

For those who question comparing Mercer’s ACT scores to other schools, citing Mercer’s comparative small class sizes, the proficiency ratings may be more meaningful -- and the results also are not good. 

The 2018-19 ACT results for 10 students tested show that 7 were not proficient in ELA (English Language Arts), 9 were not proficient in mathematics and 8 were not proficient in science.  Or, put another way, 3 of the 10 were proficient in ELA, only 1 proficient in math, and 2 proficient in science. (10/15/19)

                    *                              *                              *

SHERI KOPKA PICKED AS TEMPORARY ADMINISTRATOR

Sheri Kopka, science teacher at the Mercer School, was selected Tuesday to fill in as administrator for the hospitalized Erik Torkelson. 

Although no official announcement has been made, it is generally known that Torkelson had a stroke resulting in partial paralysis.  The three-member Board accepted a request for a medical leave for Torkelson for an undetermined period.

It then agreed to enter into a contract with Kopka to fill the district administrator vacancy on an interim and probationary basis for a six-month term or subject to the return of Torkelson.  (7/18/19)

                    *                              *                              *

A NEW BEGINNING? WELL MAYBE

For the first time in eight years the Mercer School may have a Board of Education and Administrator which will focus on quality education and the efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Two new Board members, selected at the July 30 meeting, will join two recently elected members, Bob Davis and Jim Hannemann.  This is in contrast with a Board which not too long ago lacked the ability to manage school affairs in an open and honest manner.

Recently retired Mercer dentist Dr. Jeff Nehring and retired Racine schoolteacher Sue Loth were selected from a list of five to fill two vacant board seats.  The vacancies were created by the resignations of Karl Anderson and Noel Brandt. (8/4/19)

                    *                              *                              *

3 PRESENT, 2 FORMER MERCER SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS CHARGED WITH CRIMINAL FELONIES

Deanna Pierpont, Noel Brandt, Micki Pierce-Holmstrom, Kelly Kohegyi and Denise Thompson have been charged with Class I criminal felony counts in the Iron County Circuit Court by District Attorney Matthew J. Tingstad. 

All five defendants have been ordered to appear before Circuit Court Judge Patrick J. Madden for initial appearances at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, April 22, the same day as the Mercer School Board meeting at 5 p.m.  At the initial appearances, dates for preliminary hearings will be set.  At some point, the defendants will be asked to enter pleas of guilty or not guilty and post bonds.  Eventually trial dates will be set.

Of course, in every criminal case the defendant must be considered innocent until proven guilty. (4/6/19)

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JUSTICE: THE IRON COUNTY WAY

In what was a surprising and seemingly predetermined court proceeding, criminal felony charges against the Mercer 5 were dismissed Monday by Iron County Circuit Judge Patrick Madden.  (For details about the charges and the defendants see MSF 4/2/19 The Wheels of Justice Turn Slowly)

Of, course, the defendants must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.  But Judge Madden blocked even making that determination by throwing out the cases on a technicality that the criminal charges were flawed. We will never know if the charges actually were flawed because Judge Madden did not give District Attorney Matthew Tingstad an adequate opportunity to prove otherwise. (4/23/19)

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THE MERCER TESTING SCANDAL
A Mercer teacher has surrendered her teaching license in what may have been affected by an investigation into test administration and scoring by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.


Information posted Monday on the DPI’s Educator Licensing website shows that Mercer history teacher Deborah Hohner surrendered her teaching license on September 11.  She resigned from her position at the school on September 6.  This followed a September 4 closed session of the Mercer School Board which had on its agenda several items apparently related to the investigation.  (See MSF 9/9/!9 The Tip of the Iceberg)  (9/18/19)



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ANOTHER MERCER TEACHER SURRENDERS HER LICENSE

A second Mercer teacher has ended up without her teaching license in the aftermath of a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction investigation into “test administration and scoring”. 

The DPI website containing teacher licensing information listed the “License Status” for Irene Deborah Rice as “Voluntary Surrender as of 10/29/19”.  An earlier listing for Rice on the website showed her “License Status” as “Under Investigation”.

The only known investigation by the DPI was for Mercer’s “test administration and scoring”.  The DPI had announced to the news media on several occasions that it was conducting the investigation.  The DPI also acknowledged the investigation in responses to citizen requests for public records.  (11/6/19)

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THE DPI TESTING INVESTIGATION

Sweeping foreboding information under the rug is nothing new at the Mercer School.  But what will the new Mercer School Board do about what appears to be the latest scandal to surface?

The word is that a Mercer teacher was fired (some say that person was given the opportunity to resign) as a result of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s investigation into test administration and scoring at the school. The investigation has been ongoing for over a year and the issue apparently came to a head last week when the DPI gave the school the chance to act or face public disclosure of its investigation findings.

The former administrator and his School Board never allowed any public disclosure of the DPI investigation. There is no way of knowing how deep the investigation went or if last Friday’s firing (or resignation) is just the tip of the iceberg. (9/9/19)

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14 REASONS TO ATTEND THE SCHOOL DISTRICT’S ANNUAL MEETING

Just when Mercer residents were beginning to hope that the new school board and administrator would turn out to be fiscally responsible and begin to stop the waste of their school tax dollars, what happens?  The board and administrator propose a record-high 2019-20 budget.

Under this budget, total school expenditures will rise an alarming 9% to $3,831,953 for 2019-20, compared with an actual 2018-19 spending of $3,518,955.  

And just after settling a $185,465 penalty with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for misusing Community Services Fund 80 that cost taxpayers $161,515 including legal expenses, what does the new school board do?  It raises Fund 80 spending 31% to $192,934 for 2019-20 from $147,774 in 2018-19.  (10/27/19)

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HOW MUCH DID THE FUND 80 FIASCO COST TAXPAYERS?

You have to wonder why the Mercer School Board’s settlement with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for the District’s Fund 80 abuses was approved in closed session and Mercer residents have not been told what it involves.

The reason for the secrecy may be because the savings from the District’s appeal was not all that great.  It appears that the District was still on the hook for about $125,000, plus legal fees, for improperly using Fund 80 Community Services funds.  The DPI had originally claimed that $185,465 had been misused.  (6/23/19)