TORKELSON COMP. $146,359
Contract $98,000; Benefits $30,000
Wis. DPI Supt. comp. $121,307
Cost per student Mercer $20,146,
Wis. $12,942, Nation $10,667
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. schools






Saturday, December 14, 2019


Terminating Torkelson?

BUT FIRST CLAW BACK THE $191,000+ HE WAS OVERPAID


Is the Mercer School Board working toward ridding the district of Administrator Erik Torkelson?  From some board actions it would appear so.


At the November school board meeting the board met in a closed session with the school’s attorney to “consider employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee…Specifically, to discuss administrator (Torkelson) leave status , and to potentially take action regarding same.”  But why have in an expensive counsel to simply discuss his leave status?


And the board has spent $22,685 in September and October in legal fees for what may be, in part, work on terminating Torkelson.  There is his contract to consider and whether it will be necessary to pay him to go away.  


If the board is looking for reasons to terminate Torkelson it should look at the school’s failed academic record and the documented misspending and mismanagement.  His contract requires that he “perform at a professional level of competence the services, duties and obligations required by the laws of the State of Wisconsin.” 


If the board is working on removing Torkelson it should first attempt to recover the huge amounts of money he was overpaid during his eight-year tenure.  In most years his take-home pay package was in excess of $150,000.  ($161,336 for 2015-16, $168,641 for 2016-17, $165,963 for 2017-18 and $146,359 for 2018-19) During that time his contract was for a base salary of $98,000 plus about $30,000 in benefits.  So, at a minimum he probably received excess pay of about $20,000 a year.  $20,000 X eight years = $160,000.


Add to that the additional salary he took from July 2017 through June 2019.  His school board cronies – Deanna Pierpont, Micki Holmstrom and his mother-in-law Kelly Kohegyi – awarded him a new contract raising his salary $15,500 a year from $98,000 to $113,500. The problem is that the school board never approved that contract, so it is not legal.  $160,000 + $31,000 = $191,000.


An audit of other funds and perks Torkelson may have received might produce additional significant amounts.


Any settlement should end up with him owing the school district money.  But if the school board must consider paying him to just go away, it will be money well spent. 

Saturday, December 7, 2019


 Let There Be Light
A CHANCE FOR GREATER TRANSPARENCY

“A good relationship starts with good communications,” as the saying goes.”

And good communications have been started by Bob Davis, president of the Mercer School Board, the new board members and interim Administrator Sheri Kopka.  Unfortunately, not many people are aware of it.

But there is a solution.  Resume video recording the monthly school board meetings and post them on the school’s website within days of the meetings.

Davis has given excellent president reports at the district’s annual meeting and at monthly school board meetings, which is the first time in years that there has been transparency.  He has discussed school issues of concern, something that was never allowed during the reign of former Administrator Erik Torkelson. 

Monthly board meetings video recordings were routinely placed on the school’s website until the 2017 annual meetings when one school board member shouted obscenities and another charged menacingly at a senior citizen who was speaking about the school’s “pathetic” ACT scores.

Deanna Pierpont, school board president at the time, said she erased the video and told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that it was because, “I didn’t like what I saw.”  She was later criminally charged with destruction of a public record.    In an unprecedented action, the charge was mysteriously dismissed by Circuit Judge Patrick Madden, since deceased.

The monthly school board meetings are sadly attended by usually no more than a couple dozen people.  The Iron County Miner does a good job in reporting the meetings and this blogsite highlights significant issues.  But many Mercer citizens who do not attend the meetings for one reason or another are kept in the dark. 

Resuming video recording of the meetings would help solve that problem.

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.

Saturday, November 30, 2019





More on the Report Card Scores
A LOOK AT THE 21 NORTHERN SCHOOL DISTRICTS

When conditions are good, there is a natural tendency to take credit for the results.  But when things turn bad, people begin to look for excuses.  This is what appears to be happening regarding the annual School Report Card scores recently issued by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Four years ago, Mercer School Administrator Erik Torkelson hung huge banners outside the school proclaiming success with a Report Card score of 88.0, significantly exceeds expectations. What was not known at the time was that the score was achieved because certain teachers were helping the students with the state tests upon which the Report Card scores are largely based.  (Realizing that the banners were dishonest, the new school board and interim administrator has since wisely removed them.)

A DPI investigation was launched, and the test cheating ceased.  Two teachers eventually surrendered their licenses.  Mercer’s Report Cards scores crashed and for the next three years were in the cellar.  In fact, the most recent score for the 2018-19 school year placed Mercer at the very bottom of the list of all 421 state school districts.  (See MSF 11/12/19 Mercer’s Report Card Score)

It has been suggested that small, rural schools are at a disadvantage in the scoring process.  But a look at the results for the 21 northern Wisconsin school districts seems to contradict that argument. 

Most of the 21 northern Wisconsin school districts could be considered small and probably all are regarded as rural.  But the smallest and most rural, the Maple School District, excels.  For three years running the Maple School District, with 134 students, has been at the top or near the top of the list with its School Report Card scores.  It has a three-year average score of 80.4, exceeds expectations, and has improved its score from 2016-17 to 2018-19 by 11.6%.

By contrast, the Mercer School District, with 145 students, has been in last place for the three years with a three-year average of 56.1, meets few expectations. Its score from to 2016-17 to 2018-19 dropped 18.6%, the greatest decline of all 21 districts.

Of the 21 school districts nine had three-year average scores which placed them in the “exceeds expectations” category, 10 were in the “meets expectations” class, and only two, including Mercer, were rated as “meets few expectations”.

So, what do you think?  Are all small, rural schools at a disadvantage? 

SCHOOL
ENROLL.
2018-19
17-18
16-17
3-YR. AV.
*RATING
**% DIFF.
Maple
134
84.4
81.3
75.6
80.4
2
+11.6
Chequamegon
768
79
72.6
70.9
74.2
2
+11.4
Tomahawk
1,224
78
80.5
76.6
78.4
2
  +1.9
Washburn
572
76.7
80.8
77.1
78.2
2
  -0.5
Drummond
365
75.7
70
73.1
72.9
3
 +3.6
Northland Pines
1,306
75.7
75.7
74.4
75.3
2
 +1.7
South Shore
177
74.1
71.2
69.9
71.7
3
 +6.0
Hayward
1,839
73
73.8
69.1
72
2
 +5.6
Mellen
271
73
79.8
78.3
77
2
 -6.8
HURLEY
563
71.8
77.1
74
74.3
2
 -3.0
Butternut
206
71.5
69.1
71
70.5
3
 +0.7
Winter
249
70.8
74.5
74.3
73.2
2
 -4.7
Phillips
759
69.9
70
68
69.3
3
 +2.8
Northwood
325
69.8
75
73.3
72.7
3
 -4.8
Rhinelander
2,350
68
66.3
61.8
65.4
3
+10.0
Superior
4,622
66.1
68.6
69.6
68.1
3
 -5.0
Ashland
2,093
65.3
63.2
65.1
64.5
3
 +0.3
LAKELAND
709
65
69.8
66.7
67.2
3
 -2.5
Solon Springs
273
65
68.5
68
67.2
3
 -4.4
Bayfield
365
61.1
60.7
63.7
61.8
4
 -4.1
MERCER
145
50.4
55.9
61.9
56.1
4
-18.6
 Based upon 3-year averages

     *RATINGS -- Based upon 3-year averages
     1. Significantly exceeds expectations -- 83-100
     2. Exceeds expectations – 73-82.9
     3. Meets expectations – 63-72.9
     4. Meets few expectations – 53-62.9
     5. Fails to meet expectations 0-52.9
**% increase (+) decrease (-) from 2016-17 to 2018-19