TORKELSON COMP. $168,641
Contract $98,000; Benefits $15,000
2nd highest paid of state's 424 admin.
Wis. DPI Supt comp. $121,307
Cost per student Mercer $25,281;
Wis. $12,942; Nation $10,667
Mercer ACT & School Report Card
scores lowest of 21 N. Wis. schools

Thursday, May 24, 2018


More Torkelson Arrogance
DECEIT, DECEPTION, DISHONESTY AND DIGUST MAR MAY MEETING
Awarding lucrative contracts without competitive bids and proposals…taking unilateral action without the required Mercer school board discussion or action…keeping vital information concerning a major investigation from board.
These were just more of the actions taken at the May 21 Mercer school meeting which demonstrated the continuing and complete disregard for what is legal and in the best interest of Mercer taxpayer and the students. The assault on propriety was again led by Administrator Erik Torkelson with the support of his gang of three school board members – Deanna Pierpont, Noel Brandt and Micki Pierce-Holstrom.
Take a look at these blatant and possibly illegal actions taken at the May meeting:

·      Torkelson introduced a multi-year transportation (busing) contract without bids or competing proposals and to relatives (by marriage) of himself and his mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, who was just booted off the board by Mercer voters.
Board member Christa Reinert, who along with newly elected Karl Anderson are trying to clean up the Mercer school mess, asked if bids and proposals from other bus companies were solicited.  Torkelson’s answer, “No”.  Christa said that it should be advertised.  But that isn’t likely to happen because then Torkelson could not give the business, which cost taxpayers about $200,000 a year, to someone not closely connected to him.
·        Torkelson also told the school board that he had fired the school district’s legal counsel – again without school board approval -- and he asked that it approve the hiring of another firm.  Of course, his gang of three went along with his demand, but Christa and Karl voted “no”.   Their pleas for competitive bids and proposals were ignored.
The firing of the law firm probably resulted because it had given Torkelson advice did not want to hear regarding probable legal action against him resulting from a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction investigation.  (See Iron County Miner 5/24/18 Over Objections, Mercer Board Hires New Law Firm) 
·       Torkelson continues to deny the board copies of the materials submitted in response to the DPI’s demand for Fund 80 and contract information.  Christa repeated her request, but Pierpont said that the materials won’t be made available until the DPI issues its report.
With the addition of Karl to the board and the election of Noel Brandt as board president, it was hoped that a corrupt situation could be corrected.  But it was apparent at the May 21 meeting that Brandt and, of course, Pierce, were continuing to take orders from Torkelson and Pierpont.
The next step is for Mercer voters to recall Pierpont to bust up the gang of three.    

Friday, May 18, 2018


 

Another Investigation?


CHARGE CARD, CREDIT PURCHASES REMAIN A MYSTERY– FOR NOW 
Even while facing possible serious consequences for misusing Fund 80 money and excessive pay violations, “someone” in the Mercer school office boldly continues to use a school charge card, make credit purchase at a local food store and gas station, and make on-line Amazon purchases -- all without any explanation as to what is being purchased and by whom.

These purchases have until now been kept secret.  But, school board member Christa Reinert wants to change that by requiring that line item explanations be included in the school’s monthly check payments reports.  Christa’s requests have met with lame excuses by former board president Deanna Pierpont as to why it could not be done.

Pierpont and administrator Erik Torkelson apparently do not want Mercer taxpayers to know who is using the charge card or making credit purchases and identifying what is being purchased.  But Torkelson has lost two of his collaborators because Pierpont is out as board president and Torkelson’s mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, was voted off the board in the recent school board election.

Until now board members have blindly approved the monthly payments without ever asking a single question as to what was purchased and by whom.  That is until Christa raised the issue. Each month the board has approved the payment of up to as many as 175 checks with monthly totals as high as $230,530, with the only information provided being each check’s dollar amount, the date and the vendor.

Most other school districts have banned the use of credit cards and credit purchases because of the high potential for misuse and fraud.  Even the Mercer school’s own auditing firm said that all purchases should be made using purchase orders.

In several school districts, school officials are facing criminal charges for the illegal and personal use of school funds.  One case in particular involves the former superintendent of the Shakopee school district near Minneapolis who is facing dozens of theft and embezzlement charges.  Shakopee school board members are under scrutiny for allowing it to happen. (See MSF 3/4/18 Power to the People)

All credit card and credit purchases in Mercer remain a mystery with no details provided.  For the first three months of 2018, purchases totaling $7,556 were made with an Associated Bank credit card. In 2017, those charges totaled $28,317 and in 2016 they were $26,362.

But what is really eye catching are unidentified on-line purchases from Amazon: $1,889 so far this year; $6,892 in 2017; and $13,890 in 2016. 

Other questionable payments are approved without any explanations as to their purpose.  For instance, someone is charging groceries (and who knows whatever else) at Snow’s Family Market: $1,118 for the first three months of 2018; $1,544 in 2017; and $1,883 in 2016.

 
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction appears to have its hands full investigating Mercer’s possible misuse of Fund 80 and payroll irregularities.  So, perhaps what was done in Shakopee should be done in Mercer and that is let the state’s attorney general’s office and the FBI investigate the Mercer school’s credit card and credit purchases issue.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


Time Is Running Out
IS A MAJOR UPHEAVAL IN THE OFFING?
 
MONDAY, MAY 7, 2018:  A fateful day for Mercer School District Administrator Erik Torkelson because that was the date the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction gave him to prove that Mercer taxpayer Fund 80 money had been used legally and that excessive pay to him and several staff members complied with their employment contracts.
 
The DPI started its investigation on September 22, 2017.  After several failed attempts to obtain documents from Torkelson, the DPI made what appears to be a final demand for numerous documents on April 20, 2018.  (The April 20 demand letter follows this blog.)  The April 20 demand letter contains much of what was requested and not provided by Torkelson in response to a March 12, 2018, DPI letter.  

At the April 23 school board meeting Torkelson falsely said that he had complied “100%” with the demands of the March 12 letter.  Torkelson had supplied a meaningless bunch of documents which was not what the DPI had demanded.  Actually, the documents supporting the legal uses of Fund 80 money and excessive payroll payouts do not exist.

Read the following April 20 DPI demand letter and judge for yourself.




 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


Iron County Miner Weighs In
FUND 80 USES, EMPLOYEE CONTRACTS REMAIN AS MAJOR PROBE ISSUES
In a page one story, the Iron County Miner reported on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s investigation of the Mercer School District’s use of Community Services Fund 80 and employment contracts.
Charges have been leveled that Fund 80 has been grossly misused and the money has flowed into the pockets of Administrator Erik Torkelson and some of his selected staff members. The DPI started the investigation in September, 2017.  Not being satisfied with what it received as a result of several requests for information from Torkelson, the DPI made a major demand for numerous documents in a March 12. 2018, letter. (See MSF 4/25/18 “Pierpont Out As President…”)
Torkelson falsely said at the April 23 school board meeting – and the Miner reported his claim – that he had complied “100%” with the March 12 DPI demand.  But at the April 23 meeting the Miner and the school board members did not have an April 20 follow up DPI letter which clearly shows that Torkelson had not provided the demanded information. 
Torkelson and then school board president Deanna Pierpont had already received the April 20 letter when he falsely said at the April 23 meeting that he had already provided the demanded information.  In the April 20 letter the DPI repeated its demand for documents it had not received in response to its March 12 letter and expanded the list for additions documents.
Torkelson has a dilemma because most of what the DPI is demanding which would support the use of Fund 80 spending by him and supporting employment contract information DOES NOT EXIST.
School board member Christa Reinert asked that the board discuss the DPI demands at an open board meeting.  In her usual manner of covering for Torkelson, board president Pierpont stonewalled the request and said that it shouldn’t be discussed until the DPI makes a final report.

Fortunately for many reasons, Pierpont is out as board president.  New board president Noel Brandt now has an opportunity to do what is right and allow an open discussion regarding the DPI investigation.
Read the following which contains relative page one coverage of the April 23 school board meeting in the Iron County Miner:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


A Disturbing Swan Song
PIERPONT OUT AS PRESIDENT; BRANDT IS IN
Even at her last Mercer School Board meeting as president, Deanna Pierpont couldn’t resist showering a full house audience with a string of misrepresentations.  And Administrator Erik Torkelson added to the misinformation with many distortions of his own.
Noel Brandt was elected board president to replace Pierpont.  Even if Pierpont had not sought reelection as president, her purge was certain as a result of the recent School Board election of Karl Anderson, which was another step in cleaning up the School Board mess.  Karl campaigned on a pledge of board honesty and transparency, and was overwhelming elected to replace Torkelson’s mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, on the board.
Karl was elected the board’s new vice president, while Micki Pierce-Holstrom was elected board clerk and Pierpont was elected treasurer.  Strange that Pierpont was put in charge of managing school funds when there have been mounting questions about misspending and mismanagement during her badly tainted tenure as board president.
That issue also surfacing when School Board member Christa Reinert asked that two letters be discussed regarding demands from the Wisconsin Department of Instruction for information of Community Services Fund 80 abuses and Torkelson pay excesses. (See MSF 4/14/18 Closing In: DPI Investigating…) Pierpont lamely and incorrectly said, “It would not be appropriate to discuss it (the DPI requests) until we have a resolution.” 
But Torkelson said at Monday night’s meeting that he complied “100 percent” with the earlier March 12 DPI request for information.  The DPI’s April 20 follow up request strongly disagreed that Torkelson had complied with the first request. Torkelson also falsely said that the 8-page April 20 DPI letter “outlined the reams of documents they have already received.”
According to the DPI:
“The District provided an inadequate explanation of their use of Fund 80…The District must provide an explanation as to why each Fund 80 expense is not part of the general fund, Fund 10.  A general statement provided by the district… is not adequate documentation as to the Fund 80 cost eligibility.”
Torkelson also completely ignored the DPI demand for his contract and payroll information and for the same information for Lori Boltz, Holly Duensing, Julie Hoffmeister, Adam Kussard, Chris Ranallo and Tricia Thompson.
Torkelson’s attempt to stonewall the DPI apparently did not sit well with the DPI officials because not only did they demand the information they had not received in response to the first letter, but they greatly expanded a demand for additional information in the April 20 letter.
For instance the DPI wants to know, among many other detailed items, why Community Service Fund 80 money was improperly used to:
·        Resurface the school’s floors to the tune of $20,158;

·        Make an unexplained $5,091 purchase from Best Buy;

·        Make another unexplained $10,217 expenditure.
Torkelson has until May 7 to provide the DPI with the information it has demanded.  If Torkelson continues to treat this as a game the DPI is playing, it will probably next end up on the hands of the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the FBI.  Past and present School Board members involved also need to be concerned.

Also at Monday night’s meeting, Christa Reinert, in her continuing attempt to restore transparency, renewed her request for a line item explanation of the school’s monthly expenditures report.  She also asked that video recordings of the monthly meetings be resumed so that Mercer citizens unable to attend meetings can be kept informed. 

With Pierpont out as board president and Torkelson most likely on his way out, Noel Brandt, along with Christa and Karl, have an opportunity to provide Mercer residents with the school information they have long been denied.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Now Is the Time for Change
PIERPONT MUST GO!
How can we expect to provide our Mercer students with an honest education when we have a dishonest Mercer School Board leadership and administration?
This can be changed at this coming Monday night’s School Board meeting if two members of the board – Noel Brandt and Micki Pierce-Holstrom -- recognize their responsibilities for the quality education of our children and to Mercer taxpayers.  In so doing they must throw off the shackles which have bound them to the failed School Board President Deanna Pierpont and Administrator Erik Torkelson.
They must oust Pierpont as board president and set in motion the actions that will remove Torkelson as administrator.  At Monday night’s meeting the board will select its officers for the next 12 months.  That is when they should vote Pierpont out of any board leadership position.  
Mercer voters took the initial steps in trying to clean up the Mercer school mess by electing to the board Karl Anderson in this April’s election and Christa Reinert in the election before.  Karl and Christa have vowed to restore honesty and transparency as well as eliminate misspending and mismanagement. 

Now it is up to Brandt or Pierce to continue the clean-up by standing with Karl and Christa and boot out Pierpont.  Hopefully Brandt and Pierce will each vote for the needed change.
Pierpont further tarnished her already besmirched record in a Letter to the Editor misrepresenting information.  Among the dishonest statements in the letter was that Torkelson’s pay package of $165,641 was based on a salary of $113,500, knowing that it was really $98,000.  She also falsely said that a “group” thinks Mercer should be absorbed by the Hurley School District.  Actually, that “group” consists of her and Torkelson because they are the only ones who, as a scare tactic, have talked about closing the Mercer school.
Pierpont violated School Board policy 143.1 Public Expression of Board Members by not making it clear in the letter, which she signed as president of the Mercer School Board, that her views do not necessarily reflect the views of the board or of her colleagues on the board.
After Pierpont’s removal as board president voters should then to look at recalling her in a special School Board election or certainly not reelecting her when her term expires next spring. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Closing In
DPI INVESTIGATING MERCER FUND 80 MISUSE, TORKELSON PAY EXCESSES
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has demanded that Mercer Administrator Erik Torkelson surrender a massive amount of Fund 80 and payroll records. The investigation stems from complaints concerning the “Community Programs and Services Fund (Fund 80) in 2015-16 and 2016-17.”
The DPI said that it also investigating complaints “alleging that your (Torkelson’s) total salary and benefits are greater than your employment contracts.”  In addition to Torkelson’s compensation being under investigation, the DPI asked for the payroll history for Lori Boltz, Holly Duensing, Julie Hoffmeister, Adam Kussard, Chris Ranallo and Tricia Thompson.
The DPI launched its investigation in 2017 by asking for Fund 80 documentation on September 22, 2017, and October 22, 2017. Apparently not satisfied with what they then received, the DPI demanded voluminous additional documentation.
It has long been contended in Mercer that most of the Fund 80 services were phony and that Torkelson used the Fund as a ”money pot” paying himself and others for work not actually performed.   About 75% of Fund 80 money has flowed into the pockets of Torkelson and the others and not into Fund 80 programs. The DPI asked for an accounting of the hours Torkelson and the others spent on Fund 80 programs.
A major problem for Torkelson is that the historic pay records will show that he improperly tacked Fund 80 pay and benefits on top of the contractual amounts.  The DPI has asked for all of contract for the two years.

For each of the two years being investigated, Torkelson gave himself $161,336 and $168,641 in salary and benefits while his contract was for $98,000 in salary and about $15,000 in benefits.
Before Torkelson was hired in 2011, the annual Fund 80 budget averaged $3,225 a year.  In his first year he hit the taxpayers for $257,000 of Fund 80 money.  Since then he has plowed $1,587,000 of taxpayer money into the mostly phony programs.  The DPI has also asked for detailed information about the programs.

Monday, April 9, 2018


Justice Prevails
 
KARL’S IN, KOHEGYI’S OUT IN MERCER SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION

In an overwhelming victory, Karl Anderson snowed under incumbent Kelly Kohegyi, 420 to 284, for a seat on the five-member Mercer School Board as Mercer residents took another major step in trying to regain control of a runaway School Board and administration.

Karl ran on a platform of restoring honesty and transparency and noted the major need for academic and financial overhauls, both of which are in dire need.

Mercer residents took the initial step in the last election by voting Christa Reinert to the board and booting off Denise Thompson, who was a part of the destructive school board gang.  Since her election, Christa has tirelessly and relentlessly attempted to expose wasteful spending and mismanagement.  For this she has been intimated, harassed and embarrassed by Administrator Erik Torkelson, Board President Deanna Pierpont and Kohegyi.

Christa will now have in Karl Anderson a strong and valuable ally in cleaning up the School Board mess.

Kohegyi was soundly rejected by Mercer residents for numerous displays of bad judgement, including showing the sexually-explicit movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” to young Mercer school girls.  That gave Mercer a big black eye because of the resulting nationwide publicity.

Also weighing heavily on the election outcome is that Kohegyi, as Torkelson’s  mother-in-law, had a huge conflict of interest problem.  She and Pierpont hired Torkelson as administrator with him having no such previous experience.  They enabled him to take home $168.641 in salary and benefits while his contract was for $98,000 in pay and about $15,000 in benefits.

During Torkelson’s tenure the school’s academics records have crashed to where the district is at the bottom of the lists of all 21 northern Wisconsin schools with its ACT and DPI school report card scores. 

Next to go must be Torkelson and Pierpont.

Monday, April 2, 2018


Not Just Old News
“FIFTY SHADES’ SCANDAL STILL A REAL ISSUE
Some Mercerschoolfacts readers have asked what the “Fifty Shades of Grey” ruckus is all about.  Unless they were somewhere else at the time, they would have been overwhelmed by the negative publicity which resulted in embarrassing notoriety for Mercer. 
In brief, Kelly Kohegyi, Mercer school board member and mother-in-law to Administrator Erik Torkelson, showed the sexually explicit movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” to young school girls in the back seat of her vehicle.  The shocking incident received statewide –in fact nationwide – notoriety.  Print, broadcast and social media were saturated with telling how the decadent incident unfolded.  It was even cited as the “Mercer bad example” at a teacher conference as “what not to do”.   Members of the clergy condemned the act from their pulpits.
Now, in the April 3 election, Kohegyi is seeking reelection.  The resurfacing of the scandal has been criticized as “beating a dead horse” or “old news.”  But the issue clearly demonstrates the extremely poor judgment by Kohegyi, not only by showing an obscene movie to young girls, but in many other instances – like the huge conflict of interest issue by continuing on the school board while her son-in-law is the administrator. 
Although the “Fifty Shades” incident occurred in August 2015, it is still relevant today because it clearly shows a pattern of bad judgment by Kohegyi.  This and other incidents are proof that Kohegyi should not have a part in determining the future of our children.
Read these excerpts from a 2016 page one story of a major metropolitan newspaper and draw your own conclusion if Kohegyi belongs on the school board.

'Fifty Shades of Grey' viewing sparks battle at Northwoods school
A decision by two high school volleyball coaches — one a teacher, the other a School Board member — to show the sexploitation film "Fifty Shades of Grey" to a carful of teenage girls has plunged a tiny town in northern Wisconsin into a contentious and highly personal School Board race. 
 …

The controversy surrounding the film stems from August 2015 when (Robyn) Schoeneman and (Kelly) Kohegyi drove the girls’ volleyball team to Oconto Falls, en route to a tournament in Crivitz.  

According to court records, Schoeneman explained that she drove the freshmen and Kohegyi carted the juniors and seniors.  

Schoeneman says the older girls picked out the film at the local grocery store and that she initially objected. They argued that everyone in the car was either 17 — the age limit for an R-rated film — or had already seen it. She agreed to rent it, but said it would be up to Kohegyi whether they could watch it. They did, she said, with headphones on, in the back of Kohegyi's Suburban.  

The 2015 film was based on the blockbuster erotica trilogy that featured the sadomasochistic sexual escapades of a young woman and her psychologically manipulative lover. The books, widely derided as poorly written "mommy porn," were banned by some libraries and drew protests from women's organizations that called it misogynistic.  

Restore honesty and transparency to our School Board

ELECT KARL ANDERSON

Sunday, April 1, 2018


Karl Anderson and the Issues
WHY I NEED YOUR VOTE –4
(Following are excerpts from Facebook posts “Karl Anderson for Mercer School Board.)
I would like to state my reasons for running for the School Board and break them down for you one by one and offer a bit more insight, if possible.
 I am running against incumbent Kelly Kohegyi because I firmly believe that Kelly does not belong on the board due to an overwhelming conflict of interest. She is the mother-in-law of the school administrator Erik Torkelson. This creates a HUGE conflict of interest. Even if Kelly excuses herself from the room during any conversation associated with Erik's work performance or anything associated with his pay or benefits, how can she possibly not be biased when he makes recommendations to the board?  This man reports directly to the board.  He is the only employee of the district that does. The rest of the employees report to him. It is his job to carry out the directives of the board. This conflict of interest should be enough reason, all by itself, to vote for anybody but Kelly. I have no conflicts of interest.
                                               *               *                      *

I want to address some of the rumors being circulated in the community about me.... 

Rumor #1) "Karl wants to close the school."  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I realize the value of having a school in our community.  Without a school you cannot attract young families to the area.  Without young families you won't have volunteer firemen, emergency medical services, new businesses or people to work in existing businesses, etc... 

Rumor #2) "Karl will do away with all sports."  I realize the value of the lessons learned through participation in organized sports.  The lessons of teamwork, individual effort, leadership, pride in one's accomplishments, how to be a winner and more importantly how to lose with dignity and grace.  All of these things help prepare young people for the real world.

Rumor #3) "Karl will get rid of all the janitors." Really? This rumor is so ridiculous that it doesn't even deserve comment.

Rumor #4) "Karl will do away with all of the Community Services Fund 80 programs."  I believe that Fund 80 has been abused and will want to look at what value the individual programs have, how much it costs and how many people are being served through these programs. One person who is employed through a Fund 80 program was told that if I were elected that job would be gone. That's giving me quite a bit of credit for being a powerful individual. If elected, I would be only ONE of five votes. Even if I wanted to, it would require two additional votes to get rid of anything.
*               *               *

Additionally, I have been witness to the harassment and personal attacks directed toward board member Christa Reinert. This has come from the administrator, board president and my opponent, Kelly Kohegyi.
Restore honesty and transparency to our School Board
ELECT KARL ANDERSON

Saturday, March 31, 2018


Karl Anderson and the Issues
WHY I NEED YOUR VOTE -- 3
Today's comment is about "Assure our students will receive the best education possible to prepare them for their future."
This is the job of the Board of Education. They oversee all aspects of the operation of the school but they are ultimately charged with educating our students. But how do we know if our students are doing well?  What means do we have to measure student success?
There are standards used to compare how one school does vs. others. One example that many folks look at are the ACT composite scores. There is a statewide average and then the school's average. Typically these are compared to one another and then to other schools in close proximity to one another.
The current state average is 20.0 (2016-'17). Mercer's composite score is 16.6. There are many factors that can affect the composite score, but facts are facts. The numbers don't lie.
Some might say that it's not a fair comparison for this reason or that. Maybe so, maybe not. I do know that it is still a good barometer to use. It can cause us to look at our curriculum and ask the hard questions about how we are teaching and what we are teaching. We must not be afraid to improve, we must not make excuses. Our student's futures depend on us getting this right for them.
Restore honesty and transparency to our School Board
ELECT KARL ANDERSON

Friday, March 30, 2018


 

Karl Anderson and the Issues
WHY I NEED YOUR VOTE -- 2
Today I want to address my comments and concerns about school security/safety. I had said I would work to "assure that we provide a safe and secure school environment for our students.  We cannot take the attitude of ‘it won’t happen here’.   We must scrutinize and review our security controls.”
Given recent events around the country I find it absolutely crazy that we even need to have this discussion.  BUT WE MUST. We cannot think that we are some sort of special community that will be immune to the unthinkable ever happening here. We must be proactive.
When I was on the School Board a number of years ago we changed the lock on the outside door to the gym because we had no idea how many keys were circulating in the community and who had them. The last I knew, the current lock is an electronic keypad.  One might wonder who currently has the code to get in?
Who has after hours access to our building? Who has access before the students arrive? Who is using our computer lab, workout room, walking track? Who lets them in to our school and monitors where they go and what they do?
And what about the students? What security measures are we taking with them? How are we protecting them during the day?
This conversation already started with a special meeting of the school board that took place at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, March 7th. How many of you folks were able to attend that and provide input?  I know I wasn't even aware that the meeting was taking place, not that I would have been able to attend due to my full time job.
 The security of our students and staff is critical. We must do whatever we possibly can to make sure they are safe. For those who don't think something bad can happen here you are mistaken.  We are no longer insulated from the events of the rest of our world. We must be prepared and take action to secure our school building.
Restore honesty and transparency to our School Board
ELECT KARL ANDERSON