TORKELSON COMP. $165,963
Contract $98,000; Benefits $30,000
3rd highest paid of state's 424 admin.
Wis. DPI Supt comp. $121,307
Cost per student Mercer $24,910,
Wis. $12,942, Nation $10,667
Mercer DPI Report Card score
lowest of all 422 Wis. schools




Tuesday, August 13, 2019


A NEW DILEMMA FOR THE MERCER SCHOOL?

What happens to an organization when its work force is down more than 10%?  Is it less productive, less efficient?

This could be the situation the Mercer School will face at the start of the school year.

We already know that it is minus a science teacher as a result of Sheri Kopka being named temporary Administrator.  Mercer School has advertised the position, but there is this question:  Why would anyone take the job knowing that Kopka must return to her classroom teaching position if Administrator Erik Torkelson recovers from his stroke?  Her new $90,000 contract says she will revert back to teaching if Torkelson recovers within her one-year contract’s term.

But the big question is what will the School Board do about the two teachers who are under investigation in the Mercer’s School’s test administration and scoring scandal?  The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has confirmed the investigation, and its website lists under one of the teacher’s names “License Status: Under Investigation.”

It is likely that the DPI could conduct license revocations hearings in the near future.

Surely the Mercer School Board would temporarily withhold renewal of the two teachers’ contracts until the matter is fully resolved.  Of course, the School Board can appoint substitute teachers.  But that is not the same as having regular teachers in place, particularly at the start of a new school year.

If this isn’t enough of a problem for the new School Board (four of the five members are new), it must confront the problem of coming up with a realistic budget before October’s public budget hearing and annual meeting.  In the past, the School Board had very little to do with developing the budget and, in most years, rarely saw it until the very last moment.

Now the Board’s challenge is to eliminate some of the frills and waste and focus on providing the resources for a quality education for all students.  This might require eliminating the perks received by the handful of community residents who became part of a patronage system.

Now the BIG, BIG question:  Is the new School Board up to the task?

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.

Sunday, August 4, 2019


The Mercer School Board 
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.   

Now only one holdover from the knavish School Board is still on the Board.  But voters will have a chance to remove Micki Pierce Holmsrom in the Spring 2020 election.  They had earlier ousted clique members Kelly Kohegyi and Denise Thompson.  The cabal was further decimated when Deanna Pierson chose not to seek reelection in the last election, and Noel Brandt resigned and moved out of town.

At least two attempts were made earlier to break up the clique with the election of Karl Anderson and Christa Reinert, who were committed to honest and open management of school affairs.  They were repeatedly harassed, insulted and even threatened.   A smear campaign was successful in edging Christa out of her Board seat in this last Spring’s election.  Karl resigned for some unknown reason. 

Probably the best qualified candidate for appointment to a vacant Board position was not selected at the July meeting.  He is Rich Pegg, a retired attorney who has a long history of working with youth groups and has been active in Mercer community organizations.   As an attorney, he would have been able to provide valuable legal insight into school issues and possibly avoid any future wasting of taxpayer money on outside counsel like was done in the last school year -- $77,108, $37,212 of which was reimbursed by the school’s insurer.

Another opportunity for rebuilding a sadly lacking academic program may involve the selection of Sheri Kopka as interim Administrator.  She was the school’s science teacher when chosen to replace Administrator Erik Torkelson who had a stroke in June.  At its July meeting the Board approved a $90,000 one-year contract for Kopka.

To gain greater community involvement Kopka said at the July meeting that she would appoint a citizens’ advisory committee.  She said that the committee would work on creating a new school vision and a strategic plan for continuous improvement “which will guide our work here at the school”.

Let’s hope that Kopka chooses wisely and avoids putting any of the old clique Board members or their followers on the committee.

Sunday, July 28, 2019


July School Board Meeting 

FILLING TWO BOARD SEATS, NEW ADMINISTRATOR’S CONTRACT ON AGENDA

After limping along with two of its five members missing from the Mercer School Board, the Board appears ready to fill the two vacancies.  In so doing it will have the chance to break the mold which has seen a Board that neglected its responsibilities to provide a good education for the children and manage school affairs in an honest and open environment.

The agenda for the 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, School Board meeting includes these Action Items:

            Board appointee candidate session

                        -- Introductions, open mic for/by candidates

                        -- Questions by board members

                        -- Closing comments

            Board selection of appointees to fill open board positions

Also, on Tuesday’s agenda, in closed session, the Board will consider a temporary Administrator’s contract for Sheri Kopka.  Kopka, the school’s science teacher, was selected at the June meeting to fill in for Administrator Erik Torkelson who was granted a medical leave while recovering from a stroke.

Contracts will also be discussed for Tricia Thompson, business manager; Adam Kussard, building and grounds director; and the teaching staff. 

While all of the School Board candidates’ names have not been announced, it is reported that five persons have applied for the two positions.  It was announced at an earlier Board meeting that Rich Pegg, a retired attorney, and Sue Loth, a retired schoolteacher, have applied for the positions. Also, Jeff Nehring, a Mercer dentist and a former School Board member, has reportedly applied. 

Since its April meeting, the three-member Board has wrestled with how to fill the positions since no policy existed.  In the interim, the Board approved an amended policy.

The two vacancies were created with the resignations of Noel Brandt and Karl Anderson.  The three-member board now consists of Bob Davis as president, newly elected Jim Hannemann, and Micki Pierce-Holmstrom, a hangover from the old puppet Board.

That puppet Board consisted of Administrator Torkelson’s mother-in-law Kelly Kohegyi, and Torkelson supporters Denise Thompson, Deanna Pierpont and Noel Brandt.  Kohegyi and Thompson were voted off the Board in School Board elections, and Pierpont chose not to seek reelection in last election. 
 

Thursday, July 25, 2019


OPEN LETTER TO MS. KOPKA

Occasionally a comment is submitted to Mercer School Facts which stands out as being too important to be buried within the other comments.  Following is one such comment which carries an important message.

Dear Sheri,

Thank you for accepting the appointment of District Administrator. You have the unique opportunity to lead Mercer School to a more productive future. We all realize that the past Administrator’s dictatorial style of leadership was not effective. The removal of the teachers' union guaranteed that schoolteachers and staff were forced to comply with Mr. T’s wishes or face possible termination. The school finances are nearly depleted, due to extravagant and illegal spending. You need to literally wipe the slate clean and start by being honest with the school board and taxpayers. All records need to be accessible to the school board and DPI so we may rebuild a broken system. A vote should be taken among teachers and staff to see if they want representation by the teachers’ union. Please do not feel pressured by Mr. T., the school board has entrusted the future of Mercer School to you! If you feel you cannot operate with the many pressures said Job would produce, please resign now so we may find someone with integrity and honesty! We are sick of the same old song and dance!

 
 


 




 

Thursday, July 18, 2019


School Board’s Selection
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. 

The Board agreed to appoint Kopka to the temporary position in an hour-long closed session. It was not disclosed if anyone else had shown an interest or if the Board had sought applicants.

Kopka received a provisional license as an administrator from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on July 1, 2017.  She was licensed as a teacher on July 1, 2009, and has been Mercer’s 7-12 grades science teacher.  Her new position as administrator raises the question of who will teach science?

Kopka inherits a list of school problems.  Possibly most problematic is that the DPI has been investigating the Mercer School for “test administration and scoring.” The DPI confirmed on June 14 that “the matter is currently under investigation”.  It began the investigation over a year ago and has since interviewed former and current Mercer teachers and students.

In its June 14 announcement the DPI also said: “During the investigation DPI ‘shall keep confidential all information pertaining to the investigation except the fact that an investigation is being conducted and the date of the (license) revocation hearing’  (Wis. Stat 115.31 (6)(b)”.

Another problem Kopka faces is trying to improve the poor academic results which placed Mercer in very last place of the state’s 422 school districts rated by the DPI with its annual School Report Card scores.  It has also been well below the state and national averages with its ACT composite scores.

Preparing a 2018-19 School District budget will be another one of Kopka’s challenges. 
 


 

 

Sunday, July 14, 2019


Special Meeting

SCHOOL BOARD TO TEMPORARILY FILL ADMINISTRATOR SPOT

A special meeting of the Mercer School Board has been called for 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 16, to discuss the “District Administrator Status/capacity”. 

The Board apparently will try to temporarily fill the administrator position due to the illness of Administrator Erik Torkelson.  Although no official notice of Torkelson’s illness has been made public it is generally known that he had stroke resulting in some paralysis.

The Board will discuss filling the vacancy in a closed session.  It will then return to an open session to give a summary of what was discussed in the closed session and vote upon any action required.  It will also hold an open discussion on the “District Administrator position potential ‘Pro-Tempore’ path forward”.

The School Board presently consists of only three members:  Bob Davis, Jim Hannemann and Micki Pierce-Holmstrom.  It is expected to fill the two vacant Board seats at a 5 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, July 30.

Thursday, July 4, 2019


What Now? 
FILLING TWO VACANT BOARD SEATS 
The Mercer School Board has approved a policy change which should allow it to fill two vacant Board seats.  Since its April meeting the Board has been limping along with only three members.  It lacked the necessary policy which would prescribe the method to fill vacancies.

The vacancies were created by the resignations Noel Brandt and Karl Anderson. 


An ad was prematurely placed in the Iron County Miner asking for interested parties to apply for the two vacant Board seats.  The problem was that a policy did not exist citing the qualifications for Board membership or the procedure for selecting from the candidates applying.

Two Mercer residents did apply – Rich Pegg, a retired attorney, and Sue Loth, a retired schoolteacher.   At its May meeting the Board agreed that it would honor their applications.  It has been suggested that the two candidates who lost out in the April School Board election should also be considered.  They are Christa Reinert, who narrowly lost her bid for reelection, and Paul Chaney.

The Board presently consist of Bob Davis and Jim Hannemann, both newly elected in the April election, and Micki Pierce-Holmstrom. 

School Board Policy 0142.5 “Filling a Board Vacancy” now reads: 

The vacancy shall be filled by the Board using the following procedure:

A.     The Board shall seek qualified and interested candidates from the community by posting a vacancy at the Town Hall, Associated Bank and Iron County Miner.

B.     All applicants are to submit a notice of their interest, in writing, to the District Office.

C.     The Board may interview all interested candidates to ascertain their qualifications.

D.    Appointments to the Board to fill a vacancy shall be by a majority of the existing Board.  Should the Board be unable to select a candidate by a majority vote of the existing Board members, the candidate may be selected by the Board President.
 

Sunday, June 23, 2019


The Secret Settlement
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.
Lawyer-written settlements, by nature, are difficult for the layman to understand.  However, the settlement, effective May 8, 2019, and signed by Bob Davis, president of the Mercer School Board, and Michael Thompson, DPI deputy superintendent, requires the District to pay the DPI $37,214.95. The DPI received the District’s check on June 3. 
On the surface, a payment of $37,214.95 to settle an original $185,465.42 claim for misuse of taxpayer Fund 80 seems like a good deal. However, the settlement agreement seems to have actually cost Mercer taxpayers a total of approximately $125,000, plus unreimbursed legal fees.  As the result of a District appeal, the DPI accepted explanations of eligible Fund 80 expenses for about $60,000, reversing its original decision. The DPI disallowed the use of the Fund 80 to pay salaries and benefits to Administrator Erik Torkelson and several staff members.
However, maybe it wasn’t such a good deal when adding the $37,214.95 to what appears to be $87,300.11.  This money was withheld from the District in 2016-17 state aid funds for Fund 80 abuses.
The legal fees paid for filing an appeal could amount to the better part of about $37,000.  Since Torkelson hired Mary Gerbig of the Davis-Kuelthau law firm in April 2018, about $70,000 has been paid through April to the firm, $33,000 of which has been reimbursed by the District’s insurer. 
The settlement agreement also notes: “Certain School District expenditures were incorrectly identified as Fund 80 expenditures instead of Fund 10 expenditures, but those certain expenditures were otherwise utilized appropriately for public school operations.”
The settlement is also intended to prevent the abuses of the past by requiring that the School District “shall implement a corrective action plan”.  The plan requires that the District “shall maintain documentation demonstrating the eligibility of any expenditures in Fund 80”. 
So, whatever the settlement’s actual cost, Torkelson’s blunder has been costly for Mercer taxpayers. 

 
 

 

Thursday, June 6, 2019


A Very Sad Time for Mercer
AN ATTACK ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND THE PRESS
When our forefathers drafted the First Amendment to our Constitution they may have had in mind that someday, somewhere a small group of disrupters would want to try to squelch freedom of speech and of the press.  But that seems to be what is happening in Mercer. 
What has been sacred to Americans, and for what many have fought and died for, is now under attack by an anonymous group and other individuals parading under the such pseudonyms as the Committee for Position Action (CPA) and Micah Magma.  They have gone so far as to dupe people into unknowingly signing away, in a petition, their First Amendment Rights under the mistaken belief that it would remedy a serious community wide problem.
The problem dividing the community is not the public print and broadcast sources, the social media or individuals who are reporting the news about the mismanagement of the school.  The root cause of the problem is a Mercer School administration and its followers (the CPA and Micah Magma) which are trying to prevent disclosure about the failure to provide our youth with a needed education and the administration’s mismanagement and misspending.
Of course, Mercer School Administrator Erik Torkelson and his minions would want to eliminate the chance for anyone to criticize his failed administration.  In an earlier statement to the news media Torkelson even asked that those critical of his administration should be “silenced”.   But, can you imagine a society where no one would be able to criticize what is clearly a major problem?  Of course, it has happened before in such places as Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union.
A recent attempt to undermine our Constitution was the result of a letter by an unsuspecting Mercer person, probably written by someone in the CPA gang, asking Town Chairman John Sendra to have the Iron County District Attorney do away with our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the press by eliminating this blogsite.  Ironically, the author of the letter wrote,"I am aware of the first amendment rights,” but went on anyway to say, in effect, that they should not apply in Mercer’s case. 
Instead of laughing off the matter, Sendra took the letter to the DA who probably felt that the whole idea was absurd.  Sendra committed another faux pas by inappropriately bringing up the subject at a Town Board meeting, a venue where it had no reason to be discussed. 
 
What is it about the school’s administration that is so wrong that the Torkelson followers want to silence all chances for criticism and reporting?  They say that such criticism is dividing the community.  But it is they who are dividing the community by continually trying to prevent open dialogue and reporting of the facts.

The objective of any despotic regime is to eliminate the chance for criticism.  This is what our forefathers saw as an imminent danger to our Republic when they felt it was important enough to make freedom speech and the press as the NUMBER ONE amendment to our Constitution -- not number four, five of six.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


A Shocking Disappointment
KARL ANDERSON RESIGNS FROM SCHOOL BOARD
Just when Mercer citizens were beginning to have hope that they would have a School Board that represented the best interests of the students and the community¸ a bombshell was dropped at Tuesday night’s meeting.  Karl Anderson resigned his seat on the Board without any explanation.
Until Monday’s meeting, composition of the Board was up for grabs. It consisted of Anderson, newly elected members Jim Hannemann and Bob Davis and Micki Pierce-Holmstrom.  Anderson and Hannemann wanted to restore sadly lacking honesty and transparency to management of the school, the allegiance of Bob Davis is unknown and Micki Pierce-Holmstrom is controlled by Administrator Erik Torkelson.
The Board was faced with appointing someone to fill a seat vacated in April by Noel Brandt.  Now, it has two vacant seats which the three-member Board will need to fill until the Spring, 2020, election.  Brandt’s three-year term would have expired in 2020 and Anderson would have had one year remaining on his term. This means that Brandt’s three-year term and Anderson’s one-year term will be up for election in the Spring.

Anderson was elected to the Board in the Spring, 2018, election, defeating Kelly Kohegyi.  Kohegyi was voted off the Board because of her conflict of interest as  mother-in-law of Administrator Torkelson and as a result of the scandal that erupted over her showing the sexually explicit movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” to young Mercer schoolgirls.
Anderson bonded with Board member Christa Reinert in a struggle with three members controlled by Torkelson.  Two of three, Brandt and Deanna Pierpont, are no longer on the Board.  However, Reinert was defeated in her bid for reelection this Spring as a result of a smear campaign conducted by Torkelson followers. During her first three-year term Reinert worked diligently to expose poor academic performance, misuse of school tax dollars, unwarranted pay to the administrator and other improprieties.
If Anderson had remained on the Board he and Hannemann would have a chance to add a third appointed member supportive of cleaning up the administrative mess.   

Thursday, May 23, 2019


The School Board Conundrum
2 - 1 -? - ?
The new Mercer School Board could face its first big challenge at its May 28 meeting: it may need to select a Board member to fill a vacant seat.
Going into the May 28 meeting, the Board consists of two members who want to repair the failed administration, one member who supports it, a new member whose allegiance is yet to be determined and the questionable unfilled spot.
The challenge at the meeting is whether to pick a person free of ties to the failed school administration and who will truly represent the best interests of the students and community or select another minion of Administrator Erik Torkelson.
There appears to be some controversy about the new Board member selection process.  At the April School Board meeting it was agreed that the procedure would be discussed at the May meeting.  Then, without the required Board approval, an ad appeared in the Iron County Miner soliciting applications for the vacant Board position by May 10 and stating that a selection would be made at the May 28 meeting.  Who created the ad and placed it in the Miner appears to be a mystery.
Mercer voters have been slowly making progress toward ridding themselves of a School Board which totally ignored unacceptable academic results and gross mismanagement and misspending.   
Until a few years ago, Torkelson controlled all five Board members. That control has eroded to where it appears that he now totally controls only one Board member, Micki Pierce-Holmstrom, owner of Century 21 Pierce Realty.  Filling the open Board seat with a person independent of Torkelson can be a deciding factor in whether the Board can function in the best interests of the students and the community or in the best interest of Torkelson.
Board members Karl Anderson and Jim Hannemann represent the best interests of the students and the community.  Newly elected Board member Bob Davis can be important in swinging the balance of power away from Torkelson and allow the Board to assume its rightful responsibility of managing school affairs. But will he? 
Supporters of Torkelson have been circulating petitions for one of his minions to influence the selection of the new School Board member.  The petitioning carries no weight and, humorously, looks like the amateurish selection of a prom queen.

If the selecting of an appointed Board member proceeds on May 28, Davis has to realize that the person selected must be totally independent of Torkelson and his followers. That person must be someone who possesses the determination and qualities capable of helping restore successful academic results and the honest and transparent management of school affairs.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


A Lesson to be Learned
BEWARE OF THOSE BEARING GIFTS
Do you remember McKInstry, the engineering company Mercer School District Administrator Erik Torkelson and School Board President Noel Brandt wanted to hire to manage a $4 million school improvement project?  Well, the firm was involved in a major bribery scandal which cost the administrator in another school district his job.  
Crandon School District Administrator Doug Kryder had been on paid administrative leave for nearly seven months while he was under police investigation for possible misconduct in office.  Now, Kryder is out of a job.  In accepting Kryder’s resignation, the Crandon School Board said that “it was mutually agreed that separation was best for all parties involved”.
The investigation revealed that a McKinstry executive offered Kryder low-cost Las Vegas golf vacations and free meals and drinks at conferences, according to email uncovered in the investigation.  Forest County District Attorney Chuck Simono said that the emails also referenced trips to the Kentucky Derby and the  Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls area.  Simono said that Kryder accepted the company’s offers more than once, an allegation Kryder denied. 
Kryder later advised the Crandon School Board to sign a nearly million-dollar contract with McKinstry to make energy efficiency improvements in the school. 
At the conclusion of the investigation, Simono decided not to charge Kryder with misconduct in office.  But Simono said Kryder committed “ethical violations” in his dealings with McKinstry. 
While he was the administrator, Kryder came under major criticism by school staff members and community residents for having a heavy-handed and arbitrary management style.  He controlled the five-member school board, which would do as commanded, a Crandon resident said.  (Sound familiar?)
A Crandon community group called Citizens United for Education was formed and demanded Kryder’s removal.  The group also led massive community recall campaigns, which resulted in removing two of the five Crandon School Board members.  A third member resigned, and a fourth new member has been elected to the board.   This has changed the entire posture of board, making it now responsive to staff, students and community interests, the resident added.
At about the same time the Crandon situation was developing, McKinstry was invited into the Mercer School by Torkelson and Brandt to do a facilities improvement plan.  A long list of projects was produced which would have cost about $4 million, plus about $2 million in interest.  When it became apparent that Mercer voter approval of a $6 million tax increase referendum would most certainly fail, the plan was dropped. 
Although Forest County DA Simono did not charge McKinstry with a crime, he said he asked the Wisconsin Department of Justice to investigate McKinstry’s business practices with schools across the state.
At the same time the DA said McKinstry was showering the Crandon administrator with gifts, McKinstry made a $250 scholarship donation to the Crandon school.  Guess what!  While McKinstry was courting Torkelson the firm gave a $250 scholarship donation to the Mercer school.  (Receipt No. 724718, dated 6/1/17)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


The Administrator’s Pay and Benefits
ANOTHER INVESTIGATION?
Fresh from concluding the investigation and the dismissal of criminal
felony charges against five present and former School Board member, the Iron County Sheriff’s Department hinted that it may be conducting another investigation.
In an outstanding telecast by Rose McBride on WFTW Channel 12 in Rhinelander she said that when she asked the Iron County Sheriff’s Department to comment about the criminal felony charges, she was told it could not because “this is an ongoing investigation”.  (See MSF 4/11/19 The News That Rocked Mercer)
So, what could the “ongoing investigation” be about?  The investigation concerning the signing of the May 1, 2018, School Board letter and the destruction of a public record appears to have been concluded with Iron County Circuit Judge Patrick Madden mysterious dismissing them in an unprecedented action.
A major remaining unresolved issue involves the pay of Administrator Erik Torkelson.  Since he was hired in 2011 by his mother-in-law Kelly Kohegyi, president of the Mercer School Board at that time, he has taken home pay and benefits far in excess of his what his contract allows. Could the investigation be about that? 
Torkelson’s 2011 contract limited his pay to $98,000 and benefits to about $30,000.  A July 2017 contract increased his base pay to $113,500, but the contract is illegal because it was never approved by the Board in an open session.  During his tenure, he has also been paid bonuses which, again, were illegal because they were never approved by the Board in open session. But, look at what Mercer School documents show Torkelson actually has taken home in the past several years:
2017-18        $165,963
2016-17        $168,641
2015-16        $161,336
While Torkelson has been the administrator and drawing such exorbitant compensation, the school’s ACT composite scores have plummeted to well below state and national averages.  Also, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction School Report card score has placed Mercer 422nd in a list of all 422 Wisconsin school districts.
Hardly the kind of performance record that warrants a pay package of $165,963.
Add to this that we are paying $24,910 per year to educate each Mercer student, compared with a state average of $12,942 and national average of $10,667. The average annual all-inclusive cost for educating a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is $22,082.
Mercer school district documents concerning Torkelson’s pay and benefits have been given to District Attorney Matthew Tingstad, who along with Iron County Deputy Sheriff Lt. Paul Foryan, conducted the earlier investigation.
Let’s hope the “ongoing investigation” leads to Mercer taxpayers getting back some of their hard-earned money.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


“Friends in High Places”
THE JUDGE AND HIS “MERCER 5” PALS
The saying “There is something rotten in Denmark” could very well apply to the Iron County Circuit Court of Judge Patrick Madden.  
This line from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is interpreted by scholars of his writings to mean “there was something wrong with a certain situation – there was cause to be suspicious of people and their motives”
And there certainly is cause to be suspicious of the way in which Judge Madden handled the dismissal of the criminal felony charges against the “Mercer 5.” The news coverage by the three local newspapers would lead someone to conclude that the defendants’ best attorney was the judge himself.
In what was supposed to be an initial appearance of the five present and former Mercer School Board members, for some inexplicable reason, Judge Madden moved right into hearing motions for dismissal of the charges. This is very rarely done with criminal felony proceedings.  Such dismissal motions, filed by the defendants’ attorneys just one to three workings day before the initial appearances, would normally be heard at later court sessions.
At the start of the initial appearances, Madden ignored District Attorney Matthew Tingstad’s plea: “I am not prepared to argue today on the (dismissal) motions.  There was not enough notice.”  And before Madden dropped the final case, Tingstad said: “I didn’t even get to see the motion before coming into court, your honor”.  (This point was well made in an excellently written article by Abigail Bostwick in the Lakeland Times.)
This was not the first time that Madden has shown extraordinary favoritism to some of his pals on the Mercer School Board.  In a restraining order hearing about three years ago, he took the word of Deanna Pierpont, School Board president at the time and a defendant in the “Mercer 5” criminal cases, and Mercer School Administrator Erik Torkelson, that a letter alleging harassment of Mercer teacher Robyn Schoeneman had been written by Christa Reinert.  Christa was a candidate for election to the School Board and Pierpont and Torkelson knew they could not risk her being on the Board because of the possibility that she would have access to embarrassing and incriminating information about School Board and administrative practices.
Madden issued the restraining order, basing it on the false information that Christa had written the letter.  When another person submitted a sworn statement that he actually wrote the letter, Madden, showing loyalty to his School Board pals, denied a motion by Attorney Tony Stella to reverse his restraining order against Christa, even though there was proof that Christa had not written the letter.
As another saying goes,” It helps to have friends (Judge Madden) in high places.”
Contact DA Tingstad and encourage him to appeal the”Mercer 5” dismissals and email the Wisconsin Judicial Commission (www.wicourts.gov/judcom)  to ask for an investigation of Judge Madden’s conduct.