SCHOOL FACTS
Cost per student Mercer $26,433,
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






Friday, April 16, 2021

 

The Finale -- Looking Back

MERCER’S UNSUNG HEROES

History has many unsung heroes who have accomplished many good deeds but received little or no recognition.  Mercer too has such heroes who pioneered in attempts to rid the Mercer School of an administration and school board which misused school funds and neglected the education of our children.

The efforts of these heroes have been successful as made clear by the removal, one by one, of corrupt school board members and the end of the despotic rule of Administrator Erik Torkelson.  A new school board and administrator are now in charge, and the managing of school finances and attention to academic results seem to be headed in the right direction.

In the early days of Torkelson’s reign of mismanagement some of the first challengers to his arbitrary and bullying methods were Gerri Reynolds and Ellen Kerwin.  Reynolds, a former school business manager in another district, was fully qualified to focus on and speak out about the many things wrong with the operation of the school.  She and Kerwin took constant abuse for their efforts and Kerwin was even threatened with the loss of her job if she did not stop being a critic.  Both subsequently moved away in disgust.  

Other earlier champions of the cause to clean up the school’s management mess were Paul Juske and his wife Judy.  Paul Juske, a former teacher and holder of an advanced degree in education, ran for election to the school board three times and lost by narrow margins.  He was the victim of dirty tricks campaigns, which even involved attacks on a family member.  Juske’s mailbox was smashed (the only one of many on his road) and the air was let out of his tires. They, too, moved away in disgust.

The Juskes were the first to question the misuse of Community Services Fund 80 which later resulted in a major investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  At one point an anonymous defamatory flyer attacking Juske with many falsehoods was illegally composed and printed at the school and then mailed to all Mercer residents by the then, but since deposed, school board clerk.  The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board ruled that the flyer was illegal and urged that the then Iron County district attorney take legal action.  The “do-nothing” DA at the time did nothing.

Another unsung hero was Dick Thiede who on a couple of occasions meticulously researched and exposed, among other things, a school board and administrator scheme to “intentionally misrepresent or conceal important facts and deceive Mercer taxpayers” concerning a school tax referendum.  The deception led to passage of the referendum which cost taxpayers three times as much as promised. 

Other later champions who attempted to clean up the school’s administrative mess were Christa Reinert and Karl Anderson, who were each elected to the board but not without more dirty tricks.  Torkelson and his school board stooges went after Reinert with a vengeance. 

Reinert was instrumental in exposing the “50 Shades of Grey” scandal which involved a Mercer school board member and a teacher showing the sexually explicit R-rated movie to young schoolgirls.  News of the sordid affair went viral nationally and damaged the reputation of Mercer.

The Torkelson regime began to fall apart when another hero, a former teacher, reported a test cheating scandal involving at least two teachers and possibly others.  The two surrendered their teaching licenses.  The news of the test cheating scandal seemed to coincide with Torkelson having a stroke.  A year later he was removed from office.

The former school board and administrator’s record includes: a conviction for violating the state’s public records law; charges for violating the open meetings law and destroying a public record; a six-figure settlement for illegally using school funds; and dismal academic performance which ranked the Mercer School in very last place of Wisconsin’s 424 school districts.

And then there were the enablers, minions and stooges who supported the corrupt school system.  Thankfully, they are now out of the picture. 

There are other unsung heroes too numerous to mention, including the Mercer residents who saw through the smokescreen of lies and deception and supported the heroes we have named.  They and others like them  have done an exemplary job.  There is every reason to believe that the future of the Mercer School is bright.  

The mission of Mercer School Facts has been to bring these issues to light and to encourage those interested in that future.  Perhaps we can now say “Mission Accomplished”.  Perhaps now there is no need to continue Mercer School Facts.

We end, then, with only adios, sayonara, shalom, au revoir and GOODBYE.


   



Tuesday, March 30, 2021

 

The Finale -- Part 3 -- September 27, 2016

A DATE THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY

(Fast forward to the year 2070 and a space capsule living room in the thriving city of Merceropolis.)

Young Girl: Grandpa, tell me about the lynching which happened here back in
2016.  I tried to find out about it in the archives of a thing called the Mercer school board minutes, but I couldn't find anything.

Grandpa:  Well, Erika, that was a long time ago when many people in Mercer did not pay much attention to what was going on, and a lot of bad things were happening in the school district.  You know, public records and open meetings violations, huge unexplained and unjustified salaries and expenses and things like that. 

Young Girl:  But, Grandpa, tell me more about the lynching.  I read that some people called it character assassination.

Grandpa:  As best as I can recall, an attempt was made to skewer an honest and nice lady member of the school board who was trying to represent the citizens of Mercer by obtaining public information that was being withheld from the public.

Young Girl: Didn’t they have a thing back then called the Freedom of Information Act, which required them to make public everything they did?

Grandpa:  Yes, but that did not seem to matter to the school board or many Mercer citizens who, as I said, were willing to let it happen – something that couldn’t happen today. They called that September 26, 2016, meeting of the school board a date that will live in infamy.

Young Girl: Grandpa, whatever happened to that Mercer school?  I could not find any information about it between 2011 and 2019.

Grandpa:  That was a dark period for the school when there was a reign of mismanagement and misspending and the kids were deprived of a proper education.  Many good people of Mercer wanted that memory erased.  Thankfully, the corrupt board members were ousted, and a new honest school board and administrator began to set things right.

(Now flash back to September 27, 2016, and the monthly meeting of the school board in question.)

The lynching, which the young girl referred to, took up almost 30 minutes of the hour-long school board meeting.  But the meeting minutes, which young Erika could not find, contained only six words about the whole disgraceful event. 

The first part of the “character assassination” on the agenda called for the district administrator to attack the nice lady school board member for daring to ask for public records of school staff salaries.   As a member of the school board, she should have had routine access to such information. 

The district administrator said her request was “extremely unorthodox” and that he had never heard of anything like it before.  Of course, he had, when he and the school district were found guilty of an earlier violation of the Freedom of Information Act and ordered to pay a fine and legal costs of more than $5,000.

The administrator also said that he had already provided the requested salary information, which he had not.  Faced with another guilty finding, he surrendered the requested information 18 days later.

The rest of the meeting also included nonsensical, non-school related attacks against the nice lady by another school board member, who was a close relative and enabler of the administrator. 

September 27, 2016: A Mercer school board meeting that will live in infamy*. 

*A date that will live in infamy” was used by FDR to describe the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021


 

Still on Track

A CLEAN DPI BILL AND FORWARD THINKING

Monday night’s Mercer School Board meeting again demonstrated that the board is still on track in cleaning up a mess left behind two years ago. 

But first, a disappointing and surprising announcement came with Dr. Jeff Nehring informing the board that he was resigning as a board member to devote more time to his family.  He made a $1,000 gift to the school and said that he wanted it used for technology.

Nehring made a significant contribution in pushing for the greater use of technology and as a “wonderful reminder” of open meetings requirements, according to Board Member Sue Loth.   Board President Bob Davis thanked Nehring for his service and pointed out that he came on the board “at a very difficult time”.

“We are losing a lot of expertise,” Board Member Jim Hannemann said.  Nehring, who retired as Mercer’s only dentist, had been on the school board several years ago and at one time was a board president.  He was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board in 2019 and then was elected to a three-year term in April 2020.

Any qualified Mercer resident can apply to fill Nehring’s board position until the Spring 2022 election.  At that time, there will still be one year remaining on Nehring’s three-year term and that will be up for election. 

Administrator Sheri Kopka announced at Monday’s meeting that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction informed the school that it had completed its more than two-year long oversight of the district’s earlier misuse of $185,465 of Community Services Fund 80.  After providing “hundreds and hundreds of documents”, the DPI said that the district is now in compliance, Kopka said.

The oversight of the Mercer School’s use of Fund 80 was the result of a May 2019 settlement the new board had reached with the DPI after it charged that former Administrator Erik Torkelson had misused Fund 80 in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.  The settlement required that the district provide a massive number of documents to prove that it is now in compliance with Fund 80 eligibility requirements.

The “forward thinking" part of Monday’s meeting came in the form of a challenge by Davis to perfect and move forward with the district’s strategic plan.  More on  that later.

Friday, February 5, 2021

 

The Finale-Part 2 -- A Strange Ultimatum

SINCE WHEN DOES COMPROMISE MEAN SURRENDER?

Some months ago, Mercer School Facts received a comment which urged critics of former Administrator Erik Torkelson and HIS since deposed School Board to “compromise”.  Sounds like a proper and reasonable suggestion.  But the remainder of the comment gave away what was really intended.

“You will never get the people of Mercer to agree with you so it’s in your best interest to just compromise,” read the message. 

In other words, everyone should overlook what Torkelson and HIS former School Board got away with by doing what they pleased, and it would not make any difference if Mercer voters elected independent and honest board members, like they did with the new School Board and when they elected Christa Reinert and Karl Anderson to the board.

But all of Torkelson’s minions are gone, and so is he.  Deanna Pierpont was the last to be taken out of picture by Mercer voters in last April’s election.  So, it is apparent that the people of Mercer must have agreed with what the critics were saying.  

The “compromise proposal” suggests that we should forget the wasting of taxpayer dollars and the depriving our youth of the education they deserved and move on.   

There is not a scintilla of doubt over who had controlled the Mercer School Board back then, and it was not Pierpont, Kelly Kohegyi, Noel Brandt or Micki Pierce-Holmstrom.  

A fitting response to this one-sided request to compromise might be what General Anthony Clement McAuliffe said when his 101st Airborne Division was surrounded in the Battle of Bulge and the Germans demanded his surrender:

“Nuts.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

 

Slow but sure

PROGRESS IN THE MAKING

For those few people who have questioned if the new Mercer School Board and administrator are making progress, we ask this question: Have you attended any of the board meetings?

If you had, you would realize that significant progress is being made, considering that the school is operating under very unusual and difficult circumstances due to the pandemic.  Then, too, the board and administrator have had to undo 10 years of mismanagement and misspending by the former administrator and his inept school board.

It appears that those who question the progress have not attended board meetings.  Only six members of the public attended the January 25 Zoom meeting, and one of them was Ricky Kelly, editor of the Iron County Miner.  (The Miner is Iron County’s only newspaper and the only one to regularly report on Mercer School activities and on other Mercer news.  It is well worth subscribing to.)

The new board has been in place since April 2019 and Administrator Sheri Kopka has been in her job mostly since then.  The first several months involved unraveling the school’s messed up finances.  The settlement of a $175,250 charge by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction that the school’s Community Service Fund 80 had been misused required massive restating of finances and detailed reporting to the DPI.

Then last spring the virus hit.  The board and administrator were quick to set up virtual teaching of the students and then a “back to school” plan in the fall.  The academic curriculum has been under constant review and now another major step forward will be taken. 

At the January 25 board meeting you would have learned, that is, if you had attended, that a special meeting will be held on February 11 to discuss the school’s curriculum.  Students and parents will be encouraged to attend and present their ideas.  Board member Jim Hannemann suggested that recent graduates also be asked to provide their suggestions.

In other action at the January meeting, it was decided that beginning with the February 22 meeting the meeting will be “in person” with masks and social distancing required.  The Zoom option will also be available. 

But then, you would have learned all this and much more about the progress being made by the board and administrator if you had attended the January and earlier meetings.  Anyway, you will be able to get all the details in tomorrow’s Miner.

 

 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

 

The Finale- Part 1

THE “OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY”

Mercer School Facts occasionally received the criticism that the blog did not tell “the other side of the story.”  But “the other side of the story” was never offered.

Of course, much of what happened is now history and some of those critics have crawled back into their holes.  But it is interesting to know what went on before we arrived at the point where we now have an honest and conscientious school board and administrator.

Back when such criticism was offered, Mercer School Facts always maintained, “Tell us the other side of the story and we will gladly post it.”

For instance, tell us how then Administrator Erik Torkelson managed to take home $168,640 in salary and benefits when his contract was for $98,000 plus about $30,000 in benefits. 

Or tell us “the other side of the story” about why Mercer School under Torkelson had a composite ACT score consistently below the state average of 20, and in one year was an abysmal 16.6.  Or tell us why Mercer ACT scores were at the bottom of list of 21 northern Wisconsin schools and very last in the state with its Department of Public Instruction school report card score.

Or what about the more than $25,000 it cost annually to educate each Mercer student when the state average is less than one-half that amount.

Also, tell us about the 75% of the $200,000 which the DPI found was wasted on phony Fund 80 projects, some of which went into the pockets of Torkelson and a few of his chosen staff members.

And let us not forget to the 50 Shades of Grey scandal which received widespread publicity and was an embarrassment for Mercer.  Tell us the other side of story of why Torkelson’s mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, showed the sexually explicit movie to young Mercer schoolgirls. 

Get the picture?  Every Mercer School Facts blog is backed by documents from the school’s own records, information provided at school board meetings, DPI information or from the public news media.

One person who offered the criticism that Mercer School Facts did not tell the other side of the story, criticized those who submit comments for “hiding behind anonymous.”  And how did that person sign the comment?  You guessed it, “Anonymous.”

Those honest people who submitted comments as “anonymous” did so because they did not want their tires punctured with metal shards, their property name signs and mailboxes smashed, to be threatened with the loss of a job or business, or to be harassed, threatened, and intimidated.  All these things actually happened to conscientious Mercer citizens who dared to criticize the former corrupt school situation and tried to put an end to an unbelievably bad, disgraceful, and costly situation.

Do you see now why the Mercer School Facts blog editors, writers and contributors chose to remain “anonymous”?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

 

TOP NEWS STORIES OF 2020

2020 WAS ANOTHER EXTRAORDINARY YEAR WHICH SAW MANY IMPORTANT AND UNUNUSAL NEWS EVENTS COME OUT OF THE MERCER SCHOOL DISTRICT.  THESE INCLUDED:

·        Torkelson’s eight-year reign of mismanagement and misspending comes to an end.

·        Covid-19 virus causes closing of Mercer School to protect students and staff.  Classes resumed in the fall with a carefully thought-out Back to School Plan.

·        School Board election ends an era of a corrupt board which failed the students and the community.

·        Torkelson’s original employment contract reveals big mistakes and giveaways.

 

FOLLOWING ARE THESE NEWS STORIES AND MORE AND WHERE TO FIND THEM:
                                                       

TORKELSON IS OUT!!! 

The day many Mercer residents had hoped for arrived at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, June 22, 2020, when Mercer School Board President Bob Davis announced that Administrator Erik Torkelson had resigned.

 Torkelson’s eight-year reign of mismanagement and misspending ended after a one hour and twenty-five-minute closed session of the board.  Details of the resignation were not announced except that Davis read a brief letter from Torkelson saying that he was resigning “for purposes of retirement”.  

The separation agreement was subsequently made public which showed that Torkelson was bought out of his contract for $80,000.  (6/22/20 and 8/7/20)

                   *                              *                              *                             

KOPKA IS IN AS ADMINISTRATOR 

The Mercer School District has a new administrator – Sheri Lynn Kopka.  She was given the position at a July 13 special Mercer School Board meeting. 

Kopka was named interim administrator shortly after former administrator Erik Torkelson was placed on medical leave in June 2019.  Torkelson remained on medical leave until this last June 22 when he resigned “for purposes of retirement”.  He probably would have been fired anyway because the new board appeared to be looking for ways to terminate him.  (7/15/20) 

                        *                              *                              *            

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”. 

A sound plan for resume school in the fall was subsequently enacted. (3/19/20 and 8/28/20)

*                              *                             

GREAT NEWS FOR THE MERCER KIDS AND THE COMMUNITY

Mercer voters made the right choices in Tuesday School Board election by returning Sue Loth and Jeff Nehring to their board seats and soundly rejecting Deanna Pierpont.  The voters also elected Henry Joustra. 

Loth and Nehring will serve three-year terms by getting the most votes and Joustra will serve a one-year term as the third-place vote-getter. Along with Pierpont, voters also rejected Brian Baltz.

The defeat of Pierpont is good news for Mercer in that it marks an end to the clique controlled by former Administrator Erik Torkelson.  The Torkelson gang consisted of his mother-in-law Kelly Kohegyi, Denise Thompson, Micki Pierce-Holmstrom and Noel Brandt.  Kohegyi and Thompson were voted off the board in earlier elections.  Brandt resigned when he moved away, and Pierce-Holmstrom chose not to seek re-election in this April’s election.    Pierpont chose not to run for re-election when her term expired in April 2019, but then attempted a come-back this year. 
(4/13/20 and 1/9/20)  

                        *                              *                              *  

 NEW ADMINISTRATOR WANTS ANSWERS


In a seemingly bold but much needed action, the Mercer School District’s new administrator, Sheri Kopka, is seeking parent and community feedback by way of a comprehensive survey.  “Seemingly bold” because the former administrator, Erik Torkelson, would have never allowed such well-meaning input.

Much like the Strategic Planning Committee Kopka has formed, the thought of a parent and community survey indicates a dramatic positive change from the earlier denial of parent and community involvement in school affairs. 
(5/7/20)

                        *                              *                             

 Torkelson’s Contract – Part 1 

THE GENESIS OF A BIG MISTAKE

 A recent exchange of comments in Mercer School Facts displayed that there is a good amount of confusion and lack of knowledge about the employment contract of Administrator Erik Torkelson.    

This interest has been prompted by the new Mercer School Board’s apparent attempt to terminate Torkelson, who has been on medical leave since last June.  Since then, the board has delved into the school’s financial and academic records, apparently leading to the realization that Torkelson must not be allowed back in the school.  

The board named as an interim administrator, Sheri Kopka, to help correct many of the wrongs created during Torkelson’s eight-year reign of mismanagement.  And they have been making progress.  (6/4/20 also see Part 2 - 6/11/20 and Part 3 - 6/19/20) 

                        *                              *                              *

 A MERCER-STYLE KOOL-AID PARTY?

 Under ordinary circumstances it becomes prudent to ignore minor irresponsible acts of others. But when those acts are so extreme that they endanger people’s lives, they cannot be overlooked.

Such an act occurred in Mercer on Sunday, May 24, when deposed Mercer School Administrator Erik Torkelson presided over a mock graduation ceremony for 12 of Mercer’s 14 graduates.  His help included his mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, and long-time supporter, Deanna Pierpont, both former Mercer School Board presidents. 

The ceremony was held in a large, rented party tent erected at the Kohegyi gravel pit.  As near as could be determined from pictures of the event, about 50 people attended, and WITHOUT ANY SOCIAL DISTANCING AND WITHOUT FACE MASKS. In addition to the graduates and some parents, four teachers attended.  (5/27/20)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

 

School Board Election

 JANUARY 5 DEADLINE FOR FILING

Mercer residents were reminded at the December 17 School Board meeting that one board seat will be open in the April 2021 election.  Candidates for the three-year term need to file Campaign Registration Statements and Declaration of Candidacy forms no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, January 5, with the school district clerk.

The election will be held on Tuesday, April 6.  If more than three candidates file, a primary election will be held on Tuesday, February 9.

The term of Hank Joustra expires with the 2021 election.  Joustra was elected in last April’s election to complete one-year remaining on an unfinished three-year term.

The December 17 meeting lasted two hours with broad participation by all members.  This is in stark contrast with several years ago when the former corrupt school board would meet for about 15 to 20 minutes and rarely asked questions or held any discussions. 

Among items on the agenda was the School District’s annual audit.  There were no surprises, indicating that the present School Board and administrator have been doing a good job in managing school affairs and finances. This is also in contrast to earlier years.

Board President Bob Davis reported the audit indicated that the district’s ability to borrow funds, if needed, is significant. 

Davis also said that the audit showed that the district is in compliance with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s requirements for the use of Community Service Fund 80 funds.  The district was mandated to provide detailed information about the use of Fund 80 as part of a settlement agreement between the district and the DPI. The settlement was reached after the DPI had charged that the previous administrator had misused $185,464 of Fund 80 funds. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

 

Another Encouraging Sign

SCHOOL BOARD SCUTINIZES TWO CONTROVERSIAL TAXPAYER-FUNDED PROGRAMS

A long overdue discussion about the Mercer School’s STEP (Senior Tax Exchange Program) and the free meals for seniors was held by the School Board Monday evening.  Under the former deposed administration such a discussion would never have happened. 

Questions about the viability of the two programs were raised by several Mercer residents at the October Annual Meeting budget hearing.  Administrator Sheri Kopka and School Board member Jim Hannemann were quick to respond with a comprehensive report at Monday night’s meeting.

Both programs have been the subject of controversy over the past years for their lack of documentation and possible misuse of the taxpayer money.   In fact, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in 2018 charged the school’s then administration with misusing $185,465.  Of that amount $145,916 was paid as salary and benefits to former Administrator Erik Torkelson and several select staff member for duties which the DPI said were falsely claimed as needed to operate the community services programs.  It appears that claim was settled by the school district for about $125,000, plus legal fees.

The Mercer STEP and free meals programs are paid for out of Community Services Fund 80 which is totally funded by Mercer taxpayers. The district's 2020-21 budget for the STEP program is $6,000 and $10,000 for the free lunches.  In 2019-20 the actual amount paid out for the STEP program was $5,690 against a budget of $6,000 and $4,222 for the meals with a budget of $15,262, the difference being because the meals program was suspended with the closing of the school in March due to Covid-19.

The STEP program benefits volunteers at the town’s Paw Shop.  Every December, anywhere from 13 to 20 volunteers have received payments of $400 each. The checks are made out to the volunteers and county treasurer and are used to reduce the recipients’ school taxes.

The program is designed to provide interaction between students and the senior volunteers. Mercer’s program was set up several years ago as a vehicle for teaching Mercer students business and commerce.  Because of a lack of student interest, the school board dropped the program.  It was subsequently reinstated by Torkelson.

Many Wisconsin school districts have STEP programs. Most make public the criteria and purposes for their programs.  Many require that the STEP volunteers perform their services in the school and under the supervision of a school staff member.  A value of the program has been cited as the interface it causes between the senior volunteers and students.

Mercer Paw Shop volunteers do not work inside the school.  However, according to Hannemann, who gave the report at Monday evening’s meeting, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has been highly complementary about Mercer’s program, even though it is conducted outside of the school.

Hannemann noted that other Mercer residents  volunteer to help in the school and that perhaps the School Board should consider expanding the STEP program to include them. 

The fate of the Mercer free meals program seems more in question.  It is intended for seniors who do not receive meals at senior centers.  Mercer’s Senior Center provides lunches on Mondays and Fridays, and the Mercer School’s program was intended to fill the gap by providing meals on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  

Hannemann reported that the Mercer Senior Center is exploring if it can provide lunches every weekday, eliminating the need for the Mercer School to provide them.  Before the Covid-19 pandemic the free lunches program was sparsely attended, with sometimes as few as six people present.

 It appears that the Mercer free lunches program was set up at taxpayer expense as part of a patronage system which could provide Torkelson and HIS “stooge” board with support when needed.  At one point he said that the free lunches would be available for anyone – resident or not -- who wanted to come to the school for them. 

It is refreshing and encouraging that the Mercer School’s new Administrator, Sheri Kopka, and the new School Board are willing to re-examine and discuss these programs and how taxpayer money is being spent.

Monday, November 23, 2020

 

Finishing the Job

WANTED: A QUALIFIED SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE

Mercer voters have accomplished what many though would have been an impossible task several years ago, and that was ridding the Mercer School of an inept administrator and a corrupt school board.

The job is almost complete – almost except for one position on the board which is up for election this coming Spring.  The term of Hank Joustra expires, and someone who is well qualified needs to step forward and run for the office.

Candidates for the three-year term can file their Campaign Registration Statements and Declaration of Candidacy forms beginning this December 1 and have until no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, to submit them to the school district clerk.  The election will be held on Tuesday, April 6.  If more than three candidates file, a primary election will be held on Tuesday, February 16.

(A Mercer Town Board election is also coming up with the same deadlines, except that nomination papers are required.  Candidates can begin circulating their nomination papers beginning December 1, 2020, and will have until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, January 5, to file them.  In that election Mercer voters will have the opportunity to replace John Sendra as town chairman.)

A purge of the old school board began with the Spring, 2017, election when voters ousted Denise Thompson and, in a subsequent election, dumped Kelly Kohegyi, the mother-in-law of former Administrator Erik Torkelson.   Another Torkelson cohort, Deanna Pierpont, left the board when her term expired, and then was soundly rejected by voters last Spring when she attempted a comeback.  The last of the Torkelson clique, Micki Pierce-Holmstrom, saw the writing on the wall and chose last Spring not to seek reelection.

We now have four well-qualified school board members and a new administrator who have been cleaning up the mess left behind by Torkelson and his “stooge board”. 

Regarding this coming Spring’s election, the deposed, former school board members or their “hangers-on” need not apply.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Inevitable

MERCER SCHOOL AND THE COVID-19 VIRUS

It was sure to happen sooner or later, and it did.  The Mercer School reported its first Covid-19 case, and it involves a staff member.

The school is taking extra precautionary steps to prevent the spread of the virus to students and other staff members.  Administrator Sheri Kopka issued the following statement:

The Mercer School District has been notified that a staff member at Mercer School tested positive for COVID-19.

 

Per our established protocol, we have temporarily closed off all areas of the building that the individual used in the past several days so that we can thoroughly clean and disinfect the spaces. We will take the steps necessary to protect the health of our students and staff.

 

The individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to return to school until the school and Iron County Health Department determine it is safe to do so. Classes will continue in person. 


We are closely monitoring this situation and will provide you with updates as we know more. If you have questions, please contact Sheri Kopka at 715-476-2154 or skopka@mercertigers.org.

Covid-19 cases continue to skyrocket in Iron County and the state.  The Iron County Health Department reported that as of yesterday the county has recorded 274 cases and 5 deaths.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a record 7,073 new confirmed infections Tuesday. That breaks the old record of 7,065 cases set Saturday. There were 66 new deaths related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, breaking the old record of 64 set on Oct. 27.

 

The state has now seen 278,843 infections and 2,395 deaths since the pandemic began in March. Wisconsin was fourth in the nation in per capita infections over the last two weeks at 74,452 cases per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University. North Dakota was first, followed by South Dakota and Iowa.

 

The Mercer School had earlier cancelled its traditional Veterans Day ceremony. School Board President Bob Davis had this to say:

Over the many years we have done this, the students and staff of our school have done a remarkable and tremendous job in organizing and implementing a program for these veterans.  As you can imagine, it comes with a sense of sadness to let you know that we will not be able to do this on this coming Veteran’s day, November 11th, 2020.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9536 held its monthly meeting recently and the ceremony at the school was discussed.  It was demonstrably apparent, their desire, to not in any way or in any format, put the students, staff, and our community members in a position to potentially be impacted by this pandemic.  In discussions with the administration of the school it became absolutely apparent that the individual desires of both parties were consistent with keeping the district and the health and welfare of all potentially involved as the highest priority.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Annual School District Meeting

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A FEW YEARS MAKE

Mercer could very well have its own version of the 1950’s popular hit song “What a Difference a Day Makes” *, and it could be entitled “What a Difference a Few Years Make”.

This was evident at Monday night’s Annual School District meeting when only 13 people attended, in stark contrast with the hundreds who would jam the meeting hall just a few years ago.   And it was a tranquil meeting, compared with the turbulent 2017 meeting when obscenities were shouted by a school board member and another board member charged, in a threatening manner, at a senior citizen who was calmly asking the board to address the problem of the school’s low ACT scores.

There are probably several reasons for the meager attendance Monday night.  The meeting was held “in person” and people may have stayed away for fear of the rising Covid-19 virus cases in Iron County,  (The meeting was held in the school’s gymnasium with seating eight feet apart and face masks required.) Or it could because there was nothing controversial about the budget hearing portion of the meeting.  Then, too, residents may be pleased with the performance of the “new” school board and administrator and saw no need to attend.

A 2020-21 budget was presented which will result in a small 1.5% increase in total expenditures, rising $53,311 from $3,487,802 in 2019-20 to $3,541,113 in 2020-21.  A slight decrease in school taxes will result from an increase in property valuation in the school district and a slightly lower levy rate.  The budget set the annual tax levy at $2,251,298, dropping the millage rate slightly to 4.74% from 4.82% last year.

Unlike in previous years when the annual meeting date was always set for the last Monday in October, the electors voted to give the board the authority to set next year’s meeting date at least by the time of the board’s June meeting. Under state law, the annual meeting must be held before October 31.  Some of the data needed by the board to finalize a budget is normally not available until shortly before that deadline. 

The only issue of concern at Monday night’s meeting were some items on the Community Services Fund 80 budget.  The School Board has budgeted $157,720 for 2020-21 Fund 80, compared with $120,874 actually spent in 2019-20.  The controversial free meals for the public and payments to  Paw Shop volunteers remain in the new budget, but the administrator and board were asked to examine  DPI rules and state statutes to determine that the criteria for use is being met. 

It was also voted to increase the board members’ annual salaries from $2,500 to $3,000. A proposal to reduce it to $2,000 was defeated.

*“What a Difference a Day Makes”is an English translation of MarĂ­a Grever’s 1934 Spanish-language song “Cuando vuelva a tu lado”. The English version was first recorded that same year and has been redone many times since, though Dinah Washington’s 1959 version is the most famous.