TORKELSON'S COMP.-- $168,641
Salary -- $137,937; Benefits -- $30,704
(2nd highest paid of state's 424 administrators)
ACT AND DPI SCORES -- 16.6 & 61.9
(Lowest of 21 Northern WI schools)
MERCER $25,281
Wisconsin $12,842

National $10,667

Friday, February 9, 2018

Community Service Fund 80
How would you like to reduce your Mercer real estate taxes by $42, $84, $126 or $168?  It’s possible, but you will need to force the school board to eliminate  Community Service Fund 80 programs or charge for them.  Fund 80 is costing each Mercer taxpayer $42 per $100,000 assessed property valuation; so, multiply the $42 by your property valuation, and you’ll know by how much you are being ripped off.
A number of people questioned Fund 80 programs and their costs at the January school board meeting.  Why not have the few people using Fund 80 programs pay for them instead of all taxpayers footing the bill, seemed to be consensus? Wisconsin Statute 120.13(19) allows school boards to “collect fees to cover all or part of the costs of such (Fund 80) programs and services.” 
Every Mercer taxpayer is paying for Fund 80 programs but only a very, very small number of people actually use any of the programs.  An earlier survey of Mercer residents found that only 20% were familiar with Community Service Fund 80.  Of those 20%, only one-third had ever used any of the programs.
About half of those surveyed thought that Fund 80 monies came from state and federal grants.  They didn’t know that it was their property tax dollars paying for all of Fund 80. 
Since Erik Torkelson became the school district administrator in 2011 the taxpayer rip off has averaged about $225,000 a year, and totals more than $1.5 million.  This year the rip off will cost taxpayers $203,000; last year it cost $213,000.  Before Torkelson arrived on the scene Fund 80 cost $3,000 a year.
About 75% of the money has flowed into the pockets of Torkelson and a handful of his favorite staff members under the pretext of managing the mostly under-used or non-existent programs.
Conveniently, no records are maintained to show how many people actually use any of the Fund 80 programs.  We know that about 10 to 15 freeloaders eat free meals at the school on the taxpayers’ dime.  Another 17 volunteers at the local resale store, which has absolutely no educational connection to the school, receive $400 every year.  About 6 to 8 people participate in once- a- week yoga classes costing taxpayers about $300 per class.  No information is available for how many people, if any, actually use the computer lab or WIFI ($12,572 and $1,200 for 2017-18) or the fitness room ($12,768).  And $62,426 will be spent from Fund 80 this year for day care for two and three year olds. Another $17,853 will be spend for a summer youth recreation program which will includes some of the same kids.
Don’t expect Torkelson or four of his school board stooges to charge for these programs because they have built a patronage system that guarantees their support when they tell Fund 80 beneficiaries how to vote in school board elections or to show up at meetings to criticize the critics.   
Wisconsin State Senator Frank Lasee must have had Mercer in mind when he said that Fund 80 was an “administrator’s dream and a taxpayer’s nightmare.”  He called school administrators “bad actors who are stealing our tax dollars.”

Restore honesty and transparency to the School Board

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Unending Deception
Mercer citizens have learned to expect that much of what happens and is said at school board meetings is deceptive.  But Monday night’s explanations of why video recordings of the meetings and why the sound system have been eliminated hit new lows.
Administrator Erik Torkelson feebly tried to explain that making video recordings of the meetings was an “experiment” so that the board could critique its own performance.   In misrepresenting the real reasons, Torkelson seemed to forget that throughout much of his “experiment” the video camera was focused on the audience and not on the school board.
It seemingly took two years of recordings for Torkelson to conclude his “experiment.” Other members of the board, except for Torkelson’s chief supporter, Board President Deanna Pierpont, took no part in the alleged evaluation of the “experiment”, and had no say in eliminating the video and sound systems. 
Taking away the microphones and sound system by Torkelson has made it difficult to hear school board proceedings.  Here, again, another feeble excuse: the sound systems caused annoying microphone feedback squeal.  Such occurrences were extremely rare.
Of course, it’s purely coincidental that Torkelson began his arbitrary censorship with the extremely distrurbing October 30 annual school district and school board meetings.  The video recording of those meetings would show school board member Noel Brandt charging at a speaking citizen in a menacing manner, only to be stopped by a deputy sheriff.  Also, you would see and hear board member Micki Pierce-Holstrom shouting obscenities.
An ancillary benefit for Torkelson was that absence of the video enabled the writing of a student letter containing numerous false statements about the meeting. (See MSF 1/20/18 The Actual Recording)  Torkelson’s Board President Pierpont slandered and defamed the citizen, who had been falsely accused in the letter, by reading it at a school board meeting, certainly knowing that its contents were false.
Fortunately, several people captured the embarrassing October meeting events with audio recorders.
Torkelson has said that the video recording of the October meetings does not exist.  Numerous people in the meeting room saw that the camera’s operating light was on and that a school staff member was tending the camera. 
Wisconsin Statute 946.72 makes it a Class H felony to “destroy, damage or conceal any public record”.  And Wisconsin’s Public Records Law 19.31-19.39 defines video recordings as public records.  

Restore honesty and transparency to the School Board

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Feds Becoming Involving


Former Lincoln-Way School Superintendent Indicted on Fraud Charges for Allegedly Misappropriating School Funds for His Own Benefit
CHICAGO — The former superintendent of Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 has been indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly misappropriating school funds for his own benefit and concealing the district’s true financial deficit from the public.
LAWRENCE WYLLIE fraudulently used at least $50,000 in school district funds to build and operate Superdog, a dog obedience training school that provided no benefit to the four high schools in the southwest suburban district, according to the indictment. Wyllie also misappropriated at least $16,500 of school district funds by paying himself a retirement stipend that was not in his employment contract, the indictment states. Wyllie fraudulently pocketed another $14,000 of school district funds by falsely describing it as compensation for unused vacation days – another benefit that was not in his contract, the charges state.


FBI, Shakopee police investigating former superintendent's spending
By Beatrice Dupuy Star Tribune
The FBI and Shakopee police are jointly investigating former Shakopee schools superintendent Rod Thompson, who allegedly admitted to accepting perks from companies working with the School District, according to a search warrant affidavit filed this week.
The south metro district’s school board accepted Thompson’s resignation after police began investigating personal purchases he allegedly made using a district credit card.

Restore Honesty and Transparency to the School Board

Saturday, January 20, 2018




The Actual Recording

The video of October 30 Mercer School Board meeting has been kept from Mercer citizens apparently to facilitate a scheme to humiliate and discredit another School Board/administrator critic.  However, this time an audio recording of the meeting was made by several people, and you can listen to the recording as a part of this blog.
In the recording you will hear Mercer resident Rick Duley calmly and politely  explaining that the Mercer’s School’s failing ACT scores couldn’t get the students into college.  He called the scores “pathetic”, not the students.  Rick  went on to ask the School Board to pledge to work to get the ACT scores up.
At that point you will hear Board member Micki Pierce-Holstrom shouting  obscenities and Board member Noel Brandt shouting “sit down,” sit down” to Rick, as he charged at Rick in a threatening manner.  A sheriff’s deputy stopped Brandt.
District Administrator Erik Torkelson ordered that the video not be shown on the school’s website, which has routinely been done, and that no future videos would be made.
The deliberate absence of the video enabled a Mercer student to falsely charge in a letter that Rick had called the students “pathetic”.  Board President Deanna Pierpont seized upon the opportunity and slandered Rick by reading the student’s letter in an open board meeting, knowing the contents were false.   
This isn’t the first time an attempt has been made – and failed-- to discredit and embarrass a critic of the School Board and administrator.  One noted failure was when Torkelson made a false charge that a critic had hacked into the school’s computer.  That fiasco resulted in Torkelson being found guilty and ordered to pay a fine and attorney’s fees of more than $5,000.

Restore Honesty and Transparency to the School Board

Monday, January 15, 2018

Total Lack of Transparency
The Mercer School District is associated with the color GREY because of the shameful showing of the sexually explicit movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” by School Board member Kelly Kohegyi to young Mercer school girls.  But now Administrator Erik Torkelson, Kohegyi’s son-in-law, has changed the GREY to BLACK by eliminating (blacking out) the video recording and the sound systems at School Board meetings.  And adding to such police- state tactics, apparently he has placed a spy camera in a classroom.
Wisconsin Statutes and Department of Public Instruction rules raise serious legal questions which prohibit video recording minors without parental consent and without School Board approval.  Nevertheless, Torkelson, in his typical imprudent manner, took it upon himself to place the spy camera in the classroom and to stop the video recording of School Board meetings and shutdown the sound system – all without School Board approval.
Videos of the School Board meetings were available on the school’s website until the infamous October meeting when Board member Micki Pierce-Holstrom shouted out obscenities and Board member Noel Brandt charged at a speaking citizen in the menacing manner, also while shouting obscenities.  Because of the scene, embarrassing to the two School Board members, Torkelson ordered, “No more videos.”
Now, he and his number one protector, Board President Deanna Pierpont, have gone a step further and taken away the speaker system at School Board meetings, making it virtually impossible for Mercer taxpayers to hear the proceedings.   By not allowing Mercer citizens to hear the Board’s proceedings, their actions violate rules set up by the Wisconsin Attorney General which state:  “Effective citizen oversight of the workings of government is essential to our democracy and promotes confidence in it. Public access to meetings of governmental bodies is a vital aspect of this principle.” 

The unavailability of the October meeting video also enabled the writing of a letter, signed by a student, which made a false claim that a speaker had called the students “pathetic”.  Audio recordings of the meeting, made by several people, proved that the speaker said nothing of the sort.  He said, in fact, that the ACT scores of the school were “pathetic” -- and they are.  (See MSF 12/20/17 “Test Scores Do Matter!”) 

Board member Christa Reinert pointed out at the December Board meeting that Pierpont should not have read the letter in open session knowing the accusation was false.  By reading the letter Pierpont was putting the School Board in jeopardy by delivering and supporting false and slanderous information, Christa said. 

Some time ago we witnessed then Board President Kohegyi ordering a sheriff’s deputy to remove a citizen who was trying to speak; and, on the more recent occasion, the attempted assault of a speaker.  Now, no video or audio of the meetings and a spy camera in a classroom. What’s next?
Restore Honesty & Transparency to the School Board

Sunday, January 7, 2018

GREAT News for Mercer!

Call it a belated Christmas present or a wish come true.  But, whatever you call it, this is great news for Mercer school students and Mercer taxpayers. 
Karl Anderson has filed to unseat Kelly “Fifty-Shades” Kohegyi from the School Board in the spring election.   With Kohegyi gone, could her son-in-law Administrator Erik Torkelson and Board President Deanna Pierpont be next to go?
Once on the School Board, Karl would join Christa Reinert, who alone on the Board has relentlessly been fighting on behalf of the students and taxpayers for transparency and honesty.  Just as relentlessly, Torkelson, Pierpont and Kohegyi have harassed Christa every step of the way in trying to get her off of the School Board because of the danger she presents in exposing their continuing misspending and mismanagement.  
Karl is well-known and respected in the Mercer community.  At one time, he served on the Mercer School Board and was even the Board’s president.  A long-time resident of Mercer, Karl is plant manager at Mercer’s only industry, Action Floor Systems, which employs about 100 people.
Kohegyi has demonstrated numerous times that she should not be on the School Board or, for that matter, in any other public capacity.  Kohegyi gave Mercer a huge “black eye” and embarrassed the entire community by showing the sexually explicit movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” to young Mercer school girls in the back seat of her vehicle.  The debacle resulted in a page-one story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, nationwide – indeed, international – negative notoriety in the print, broadcast and social media, and even ministers condemning the act from their pulpits.
Kohegyi’s poor judgment began with hiring her future son-in-law Torkelson without him having any previous experience as a school administrator.  That lack of experience has manifested itself many times over, including Mercer being at the bottom of all 21 northern Wisconsin schools with its ACT composite and DPI Report Card scores.  Only 12.5% of Mercer students tested are proficient in English, reading, writing, math and science.   And the Mercer School District, with its School Report Card score of 61.9 – “Meets Few Expectations” – is among the bottom 20 of all of the state’s 422 school districts.  (See MSF 12/20/17 “Test Scores Do Matter”)
It’s time for a long over due change.  Everyone needs to support Karl’s candidacy and thank him for stepping forward at a time when the Mercer School District desperately needs new, honest leadership -- and someone who can help Christa install a culture which focuses on providing high quality education in efficient and cost-effective ways.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


When the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announced the new ACT scores on September 27, it was a real shocker to see that Mercer scores had sunk to new lows.  Mercer trailed well behind the state scores and all other schools in the area.

The Mercer ACT composite score hit a new low of 16.6 compared with a state score for all schools of 20.0.  The scores are graded on a 1 to 36 scale.

Here’s how the Mercer composite score compares:

ACT COMPOSITE SCORES Announced by DPI on 9/27/17 (1 to 36 scale)
                               2016- 17           2015-16           2014-15
State                          20.0                    20.1                 20.0

MERCER             16.6                 18.1              19.0
Hurley                         8.5                    19.4                 17.9
Lakeland UHS          20.1                   19.7                 20.0
Rhinelander              19.0                   19 6                 19.3 
Ashland                     19.1                   19.3                 18.6               
Park Falls                  18.7                   19.9                 19.0
Butternut                   18.6                   17.3                 16.2

Mellen                        19.0                   17.8                 18.5 
In every subject category Mercer trailed the state scores. (MSF 9/29/17)


As if the Mercer School’s ACT composite score – a miserable 16.6 – wasn’t bad enough, the school was also at the bottom of the heap with its student proficiency ratings.  Only 12.5% of the June, 2018, graduates are proficient in ELA (combined scores for English, reading and writing), math and science.  That left 87.5% who were not proficient. 

This put the Mercer School far below the proficiency ratings for all state schools, at the bottom of the list for ALL area schools and even below Milwaukee inner-city schools. 
The ACT results are recognized by practically all educators as the true measure of how well a school does in educating its students.  Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Tony Evers has said that good ACT scores are “what employers and postsecondary schools tell us is required for high school graduates to be successful.” (MSF 10/8/17)

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction just announced the School Report Card scores for the 2016-17 school year.  The Mercer score puts the school in the bottom 20 of all of the state’s 422 school districts.

Here's how Mercer compares to other area schools:

Mellen              78.3 Exceeds Expectations

Hurley               74.0 Exceeds Expectations
Butternut         71.0 Meets Expectations
Park Falls          70.9 Meets Expectations
Lakeland UHS  66.7 Meets Expectations
Ashland             65.1 Meets Expectations
MERCER            61.9 Meets Few Expectations
(MSF 11/21/17)

Disbelief.  That was the reaction of several educators when told what Mercer Administrator Erik Torkelson said regarding the ACT test results at October Mercer School District annual meeting.  Torkelson said that the ACT testing system “meant nothing” and asked that it be eliminated.  He is probably the only school official anywhere to make such a suggestion, but then how else could an administrator defend such dismal results.

Then, at Tuesday night’s School board meeting, he feebly tried to discredit the Department of Public Instruction’s School Report Card scoring system which placed Mercer, with a 61.9 – “meets few expectations”, at the bottom of the list for all 21 northern Wisconsin schools and in the bottom 20 of all Wisconsin schools.

“I find it difficult to believe that any professional educator, particularly an administrator, would make such statements,” said an administrator in a neighboring school district.  Two administrators, one present and another retired, and a DPI spokesperson were contacted and asked for their assessments of Torkelson’s comments. They all expressed disbelief.

Torkelson made his bizarre ACT comments when a Mercer resident pointed out that Mercer’s ACT composite score of 16.6 was “pathetic” and that it would not get a Mercer student into any college.  The “pathetic” ACT score again placed Mercer at the bottom of a list of 21 northern Wisconsin schools.  The average for all 422 of the state’s schools is 20.0.   In the recent testing, 87.5 of the Mercer students were not proficient in English, reading, writing, math and science. (MSF 12/20/17)

The Iron County Miner aptly reported the October 30 Mercer School Board meeting as one that was “rocked by arguments, personal attacks, vulgarity and the removal of one school board member after a violent outburst”.   Sounds like the script for an evening TV mini-series.  But it actually happened.

Adding to the items of disbelief was the mocking of the ACT testing system as of “no value” to the students by Administrator Erik Torkelson.   It’s no small wonder why Torkelson would try to downplay the importance of the ACT, which educators everywhere recognize as “the true measure of how well a school does in educating its students.” 
Since Torkelson came to Mercer the school’s ACT has been on a slippery downward slide to where, with a 16.6 composite score, it sits at the bottom of all area schools -- seven of them – and far below the state average of 20.0 and even below some Milwaukee inner-city schools.  Of those taking the test, 87.5% are not proficient in English, reading, writing, math and science.

Normally you would be able to view the unbelievable October School Board meeting scenes on the school’s website.  Probably realizing that the video would be a huge embarrassment for a few School Board members and the administration, “These meeting videos are not available,” read the brief note on the website. There wasn’t even an attempt to use the lame excuse, “Due to technical difficulties, this meeting video cannot be viewed”, – which was used in the past when there also were scenes someone didn’t want the public to see.  (MSF 11/21/17)

The Mercer School District set another unsavory record with Administrator Erik Torkelson’s total compensation package possibly making him the second highest paid of the state’s 424 administrators on a cost per student basis.

For 2016-17 Torkelson’s total take-home package was equal to $1,259 per student.  For the prior year it was $1,204.

Mercer School records show that for the school year 2016-17 Torkelson took home $168,641 in salary and benefits.  For the 2015-16 he took home $161,336, which made him the 11th highest paid administrator in the state.  State records for 2016-17 are not as yet available, but based on year-earlier data Torkelson could move up into the 9th highest paid position.

His contract in 2015-16 and 2016-17 provided for a base pay of $98,000 plus benefits of about $15,000.  No one is able to explain and there was no apparent school board approval for him to take home $121,307 and $131,040 in cash for each of the years.  His base pay was raised to $113,500 for the new 2017-18 school year by the board at its June meeting. (MSF 7/25/17)

If the reaction of the crowd at a September 27 public hearing was any indication, then an apparent plan to plunge the Mercer School District $6 million in debt and sock taxpayers with an annual tax increase of $63 per $100,000 assessed property valuation appeared DOA (dead on arrival).

Not one person spoke in favor of the scheme and practically everyone favored paying for the proposed allegedly needed schools repairs on a priority basis and out of regular school tax revenues. Even Town Chairman John Sendra raised some concerns.

At the June School Board meeting, representatives of McKinstry Co., an engineering and consulting firm hired by the school to perform an audit of the physical plant, detailed what they said were the needed repairs: roof replacement, lighting and electrical improvements, mechanical upgrades, including a new boiler, and window and door replacements. At the September meeting, they prioritized the need for the repairs on the basis of “immediate (2017), high (2018) and medium (3 to 5 years).”

Paying for all of the repairs at once would require taxpayer approval of a $3,980,000 tax increase referendum, which would increase school taxes for 20 years.  (With interest costs of an additional $1,978.384, the debt would total $5,958,384.)  From the reaction of the crowd, such approval is not likely to happen.  (MSF 10/18/17)

It’s nothing new, of course, for the Mercer school district administration and school board leadership to disregard the law.  They have been found guilty or cited for breaking the law by the circuit court, the district attorney and the Government Accountability Board.  But it’s another matter when they spend taxpayer money without following legally required procedures.

And that’s exactly what happened when they started doling out Community Service Fund 80 money – our school tax dollars -- without the required school board or taxpayer review and approval.  In fact, they have already misspent $205,528 of a 2016-17 budget of $213,000.

A Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Fund 80 directive requires that school district Fund 80 budgets “must be adopted as required by statute 65.90.”  That statute requires that school districts must formulate a (Fund 80) budget and hold public hearings thereon.”  A budget summary describing how Fund 80 money will be spent must be provided at the annual meeting, according to the DPI.   And, school boards are responsible for establishing and approving Fund 80 budgets.  (MSF 4/6/17}

Several members of the Mercer School Board who rarely speak up at meetings are beginning to question the legitimacy of the use of Community Service Fund 80.  The occasion was so rare that the Iron County Miner carried a page one article with the headline “Mercer School Board Raises Questions about Community Fund.”

Until now Board Member Christa Reinert has been alone in trying to get information being withheld from the public.  She has been rebuffed, stonewalled and intimidated in trying to obtain public financial and other information about the school’s operation from the district administrator.  But Micki Pierce Holstrom and Noel Brandt joined in with questions or comments at the February board meeting.  Several community members also asked for more details on Fund 80 expenditures. 

Questions were also raised about expenditures made without board member knowledge.  Yet to be explained is who is using a school charge card to the tune of about $2,200 a month, and with a monthly high of $8,049; or the $23,915 in purchases from Best Buy; $7,746 for items bought on-line from Amazon; the $1,185 in bar bills; or the $7,593 to repair someone’s car.  (MSF 3/14/17)

Whether it’s unexplained credit card purchases or bar and food bills at local restaurants, one constant in the Mercer School District is that no one seems to care.  No one, that is, except School Board member Christa Reinert, who has been stonewalled in trying to get information about possible irregularities in school spending.

At every monthly Mercer School Board meeting a long list of expenditure and receipts is approved without any detail provided and practically no questions asked.  For instance, who used and what was purchased with the school’s credit card --$14,643 in the first six months of 2017.  Or, who is eating and drinking at local establishments-- $1,344 over the same period.  What about the $2,444 in purchases with an Amazon charge account, or the $1,313 spent at the local grocery store?

Let’s first take the Mercer School District credit card.  In the first six months of 2017, the average monthly charge was $2,441, with the highest month being $6,114.  For previous years it was: 2016 -- total $26,497, monthly average $2,208 highest month $4,947; 2015 – total $25,532, monthly average $2,128, highest month $5,389; 2014 – total for April through December $20,630, monthly average $2,292, highest month $8,049.  Therefore, for April, 2014, through June, 2017, $87,302 has been charged with the School District credit card.  (MSF 8/28/17)

At each monthly school board meeting board members review a long list of checks issued for school expenses.  Never once has a member questioned a single payment.  And yet it would seem that some expenses need explaining.

Take, for instance, the monthly charge card payments.  The monthly totals for those charges have been as high as $8,049.   No school board member has ever asked to see the statements which support those monthly charges.

They don’t have the foggiest idea of who is using the charge card or what is being charged. (MSF 2/6/17)

$23,915 for purchases at Best Buy.
$7,746 items bought on-line from Amazon.
$1,185 in bar bills.
$7,593 to repair someone’s car.
And, $5,600 paid to Mercer residents who have NO connection to the school.

These are just some of the school expenses that taxpayers are paying for which need explaining.  They may all be legitimate, but the Mercer school board reviews these payments every month without so much as raising a single question – or an eyebrow. (MSF 2/17/17)