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

Friday, October 19, 2018


The October Meeting

ANOTHER FAILING GRADE FOR THE MERCER SCHOOL BOARD

At a time when the Mercer School District Administration and School Board are being investigated for the misuse of taxpayer Fund 80 money, test administration and scoring irregularities, and open meetings and destruction of public records violations, you would expect the Board to show some responsibility in handling the school’s financial issues.

But it didn’t.  That is three of the five members of the board, Noel Brandt, Deanna Pierpont and Micki Pierce Holstrom, didn’t.  They sat like bumps on a log at the October School Board meeting when they were supposed to be reviewing a flawed proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year.  Only Board members Christa Reinert and Karl Anderson had the integrity to raise many significant inquiries about the questionable budget prepared by Administrator Erik Torkelson.

Of more significance is what may have happened in a closed session of the School Board.  Christa had asked for the closed session to address the behavior of the Administration and Special Education Director Deb Davis for “lacking compassion and understanding” in handling the needs of a blind-deaf, 5-1/2- year-old child.  (See MSF 9/28/18 From the Lakeland Times) The request for the closed session also asked the board to “consider the current state of the Mercer school under the seven years of Erik Torkelson’s tenure.” 

We have no way of knowing what was said in the closed meeting because Board members are prohibited from revealing that information. It’s not difficult to imagine what may have happened because Torkelson had his lawyer attend, and his three School Board lackeys -- Brandt, Pierpont and Pierce -- were not likely to allow anything to happen to their master.   And it didn’t.  After the hour-and -half long closed session, Brandt reported that no action was taken. 

Based on the “no action taken” result and the length of the meeting, it is probably safe to assume that the lawyer and Torkelson’s lackeys spent the time defending Torkelson and possibly even turning it into an attack on Christa and Karl.    

Mercer citizens will get the opportunity to review and revise the budget at the School District’s annual meeting at 5 p.m. on Monday, October 29, at the school.  Meanwhile they can review the proposed budget by going on line to the school’s website.  It was also be published in the Iron County Miner. 

Many people in the audience had a difficult time hearing the open meeting proceedings, particularly the mumbling by Board President Brandt.  “We can’t hear you,” shouted a number of people many times. 

Two former School Board members were heard to say, “You’re not supposed to.  It’s a meeting of the School Board.”  An amazing statement, particularly coming from former School Board members who should know what Wisconsin’s attorney general has said:

“Wisconsin’s open government laws promote democracy by ensuring that all state, regional and local governments conduct their business with transparency. Wisconsin citizens have a right to know how their government is spending their tax dollars and exercising the powers granted by the people.”

Incidentally, the lawyer who attended the closed session is with the law firm of Davis/Kuelthau.  That law firm is supposed to represent the School Board, but it has been taking its orders from Torkelson.

COMING SOON:   The budget issues raised at the October meeting with a hint that Torkelson may again try to increase school taxes with another referendum.

Saturday, October 13, 2018


Special School Board Meeting Monday

PROPOSED BUDGET, “BEHAVIOR” ISSUE ON AGENDA

A 25% increase in Fund 80 to $250,000…a $69,236 increase in administration pay and expenses…a $178,211 increase in total expenditures…a $232,301 shortfall in expenses vs. revenues.

These are just some of the bizarre line items included in a budget proposed by Administrator Erik Torkelson for the 2018-19 school year.

The Mercer School Board will wrestle with the budget at a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, October 15, in the school cafeteria.  The meeting is open to the public, but a closed session, which will follow, will not be.

The closed session was requested by school board member Christa Reinert to address the behavior of the Administration and Special Education Director Deb Davis for “lacking compassion and understanding” in handling the needs of a blind-deaf, 5-1/2- year-old child.  (See MSF 9/28/18 From the Lakeland Times)

The request for the closed session also asks the board the “consider the current state of the Mercer school under the seven years of Erik Torkelson’s tenure.”  The four-page request, made public at the September school board meeting, went on to cite several issues including Torkelson’s pay and benefits, which were $168,641 for the 2016-17 school year and $165,963 for 2017-18.  His contract was for only $98,000 plus about $15,000 in benefits. The request for the meeting also questioned the payment of $49,553 to retired Business Manager Lori Boltz, without a contract, while also paying Trisha Thompson as the present business manager.

Those who have viewed the proposed budget on school’s website were amazed at how Torkelson could possibly propose a Fund 80 budget of $250,000, up from $203.000, when the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on June 26 issued official findings that $175,248 of taxpayer Fund 80 money had not been properly accounted for.  (See MSF 7/21/18 Torkelson/School Board Crisis Grows)

The administration expense increase of 20% from $352,922 to $422,156 is also puzzling.  Does it mean that Torkelson plans to pay himself even more money in 2018-19?

A review of the proposed budget by the school board, which is required by law, never happened before under Torkelson. He never allowed the school board or the public to see his budget until a few days before the annual school district meeting.  By design, the annual meeting is and always was held too late for budget adjustments to be made before the November 1 deadline.  That allowed Torkelson to basically force the school board to rubber stamp his proposed budget.   This year’s annual meeting and public budget hearing will be held on Monday, October 29.

Although this Monday night’s school board meeting agenda again does not provide for “public comment,” you will want to attend to find out how much more of your taxpayer dollars will be wasted.  But don’t expect too much questioning of the budget from Torkelson’s school board cronies Noel Brandt, Deanna Pierpont or Micki Pierce-Holstrom.

Saturday, October 6, 2018


Better but Not Good Enough


MERCER SCHOOL’S NEW ACT SCORES



The Mercer School’s newly announced ACT composite score for 2017-18 remained “pathetic” but moved up slightly from being at the very bottom of all 20 northern Wisconsin schools in 2016-17.  A 2017-18 composite  score of 18.36 placed Mercer 14th in the list of the 20 northern Wisconsin schools. Mercer’s composite score for 2016-17 was a dismal 16.6.


Any score reported for Mercer is questionable because the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said it is investigating Mercer’s “test administration and scoring issues”.


According to the DPI, Mercer’s composite score of 18.36 places it between poor (16) and OK (20).  However, 18.36 would not get a student into any of the 22 state colleges listed by the DPI, which showed the lowest acceptable ACT score as 23.  A perfect score is 36. The ACT tests are administered in the spring to all high school juniors.  


As noted below Mercer trails far behind neighboring Lakeland Union and Hurley high schools.


State Forward Tests for grade 3-8 and 10 showed that 47.5% of the scores of Mercer students tested were below average for language/arts, math, science and social studies.  By comparison, neighboring schools North Lakeland Elementary was 35.1% below average while Hurley was 37.5%.


Following are the composite ACT results for all 20 northern Wisconsin schools:

NORTHERN WISCONSIN SCHOOLS

COMPOSITE ACT SCORES

2017-18                                                                    2016-17

Chequamegon        21.22                                     Phillips                      21.6

Lakeland                 20.58                                     Washburn                 20.8

Northland Pines     20.35                                     South Shore             20.4

Tomahawk              20.06                                     Lakeland                   20.1

Phillips                    20                                          Northland Pines       19.9

Northwood              19.78                                     Solon Springs          19.9

Hurley                      19.51                                     Tomahawk               19.9

Drummond              19.41                                     Drummond              19.8

Rhinelander            19.32                                     Superior                   19.4

Superior                  19.2                                       Ashland                    19.1

Hayward                  19.13                                     Mellen                      19.0

South Shore            18.75                                     Rhinelander            19.0

Ashland                   18.68                                     Chequamegon        18.7

MERCER                  18.36                                     Hayward                  18.7

Mellen                      18.19                                     Butternut                 18.6

Washburn                18.03                                     Hurley                      18.5

Bayfield                    18                                          Northwood              17.0

Solon Springs          18                                          Bayfield                   16.9

Winter                       17.74                                     Winter                      16.8

Butternut                  17.05                                     MERCER                  16.6

Friday, September 28, 2018


From the Lakeland Times

MAJOR STORY REVEALS INSENSITIVE TREATMENT OF DEAF-BLIND CHILD AND HIS PARENTS

In a well-researched and documented story in Friday’s Lakeland Times, the plight of a Mercer school nonverbal, deaf-blind child and his parents was reported in a story that began on page one and continued to a full page inside.  The excellent reporting by Brian Jopek painted a disturbing and grim picture of the insensitive way in which the child and his parents have been treated by Administrator Erik Torkelson and Special Education Director Deb Davis.

The whole affair has caused the parents of Lelyn Schmidt to take the boy out of the Mercer school out of concern for his “safety and well being.“  Lelyn’s mother, Stormi Schmidt, is quoted in the article as saying  that their “current problems with the  Mercer School District actually began when in April 2018 they removed Leyln’s seven-year-old  brother from the school because of bullying.”

To add insult to injury, Torkelson had asked the Iron County district attorney to file disorderly conduct charges against the Schmidts because of a meeting he and Davis had with the Schmidts.  A 911 call Torkelson had placed to the sheriff's office during the meeting was found to be unwarranted, and the DA has declined Torkelson’s request to press charges.

A recording of the meeting and a report by the Iron County sheriff’s office proved that there had been no disorderly conduct when the Schmidts sought answers to a letter cutting them off from all contact with the child while he was in school.  The child requires very special attention for which the mother has received extensive training. 

The letter also said that the mother could no longer have direct contact with a teacher's aide, as she had in the past, in providing the special attention the child requires.  The letter also said that it was cutting off bus transportation for the child which the district is obliged to provide.

Mercer School Board member Christa Reinert is quoted in the Lakeland Times article as saying: “After reading the police report, listening to the audio recording at the meeting Sept. 12 and reading both the original letter sent to the family from Deb Davis Sept. 6  and the certified letter Ms. Davis also sent to the family regarding this student, I am truly distraught how Ms. Davis and Erik Torkelson have conducted themselves in this matter.”

Still quoting the Lakeland Times: “Reinert said the entire school board received correspondence from Schmidt’s attorney, a letter Reinert says concerns me greatly with respect to the Mercer school district and the possible liability these school officials have created in conducting themselves in this way, with a very sensitive matter.  I have communicated with the family and I wish them all the best.”

The Friday, Sept. 28, Lakeland Times is well worth buying to read the entire article.

Thursday, September 20, 2018


What’s This All About?

IRREGULARITIES WITH STUDENT TESTING?

In the massive news media reporting of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction findings that Mercer school district administrator Erik Torkelson misused $175,000 of taxpayer Fund 80 money, an interesting part of the reporting seemed to get lost.  Here is what just one media outlet, KBJR6 TV in Rhinelander, reported at the time:

“KBJR6 has learned there could be an issue with (Mercer) test scores.

A Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction spokesperson said they are looking into allegations of test administration and scoring issues.

This comes after the Wisconsin DPI found 12 instances of misappropriation of funds within the district, totaling $175,000.

DPI Spokespeople say the investigation into test scores is ongoing, and they won't be releasing any further information until the investigation is complete.”

Authorities throughout the nation are taking a very dim view of school administrator and teacher cheating in the administration of ACT, SAT and other widely-used tests because it results in a misrepresentation of the students’ and schools’ capabilities.  In many cases it is being treated as a crime.

In Atlanta, Georgia, eight educators were convicted of conspiracy to boost students' test scores and received stiff sentences in a school-cheating scandal. Three top administrators were sentenced to seven years in prison, with 13 years of probation.  Five lower-ranking educators received one- to two-year prison terms.



A state investigation found that educators gave answers to students or erased and changed answers on tests after they were turned in. Teachers who tried to report it were threatened with retaliation. Investigators accused administrators of creating a "culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation."



Caveon , a company that owns a testing system, found suspicious irregularities in the standardized tests taken in the Washington, D.C., public school system over a few years. Investigators have launched a probe following suggestions that there was widespread cheating in the district during the tenure of a former chancellor.

Not only can criminal penalties be involved, but the companies which own the tests have denied schools the right to use them if abuses are found.  This can cause a problem for students trying to enter colleges which require these test scores for admission.

The reasons for the harsh treatment of test administration and scoring abuses are that it gives students a false sense of their abilities and it may make it difficult for them once in college because they may have been rated as having better than actual subject skills. This could also result in lost tuition as students may have to retake courses they failed due to improper placement.

The true test results are also important because major companies look at such test results in considering people for employment.  The military is also interested in them or administers its own tests before accepting enlistees.

The real crime is the students’ false sense of accomplishment.  They will only find out their true ability or how their schools failed them when they attend college, attempt to enter the military or go on with their lives.




Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Will Pierpont Ever Learn?

ANOTHER ATTACK ON CHRISTA REINERT GOES AWRY

How do you respond to something so ridiculous that it does not deserve a response?  That is what Deanna Pierpont expected Mercer school board member Christa Reinert to do when she asked Christa to comment on the performance appraisal of administrator Erik Torkelson.

Pierpont, who was board president when she circulated the performance appraisal to school board members, turned Christa’s completely justified refusal to participate in the charade into another attempt to harass, intimidate and embarrass Christa.

The seven-page appraisal contains some of the most outlandish praise for an administrator who has presided over a deteriorating educational program and the wasteful spending of thousands of Mercer taxpayer dollars -- someone who is probably on his way out.

The irony is that Torkelson wrote his appraisal himself-- something no one has ever heard of being done -- and then his school board lackeys were asked to provide comments and sign a cover letter accompanying the appraisal.   

Attached to the appraisal was Pierpont’s totally out-of-place attack on Christa.  Attaching an unrelated document to an employee’s appraisal is totally inappropriate and clearly demonstrates that Pierpont’s motive was to harass Christa.

Pierpont called Christa a ”rogue board member” who “continuously tries to micromanage the school district.”    Pierpont is confusing “micromanaging” with Christa’s sincere attempt to fulfill her legal fiduciary responsibility as a school board member while protecting the best interest of the students and Mercer taxpayers.

Pierpont also charged that Christa’s attempts to “micromanage” the school district is costing the Mercer School District thousands of dollars in resources – time and money.”  All Christa has been attempting to do is to obtain readily available information she has been denied but to which she is legally entitled in order to perform her responsibilities as a school board member.

While falsely charging that Christa is costing the district thousands of dollars, Pierpont made no mention of the thousands of dollars in pay and benefits she and Torkelson’s mother-in-law, Kelly Kohegyi, allowed Torkelson to take home every year which far exceeded his contractual amount.  Nor did Pierpont mention the many other thousands of taxpayer dollars --- $1.6 million of Community Services Fund 80 money alone – which have not been fully accounted for.  In an ongoing investigation, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has already found that Torkelson diverted $145,916 from the school’s Fund 80 account into his pocket and the pockets of a few select staff members.  (See MSF 6/30/18 Torkelson’s Taxpayer Ripoff Draws Fire)

In the appraisal, Torkelson took credit for 88 achievements, practically all too ridiculous to mention.  For example, he credited himself for Mercer test scores that “have steadily improved”.  Since when does steady improvement mean being at the very bottom of the list of all 21 northern Wisconsin school districts with Mercer’s ACT and DPI school report card scores?

He also credited himself with doing “a great job on the ($650,000 school tax increase) referendum.”  Was it “a great job” by lying to Mercer taxpayers and telling them taxes would go up a mere $11 per $100,000 when he knew they would skyrocket by about $137 per $100,000?

Pierpont has been known to consistently use extremely poor judgment in her unwavering support for the failed administrator.   Her attack on Christa is just another reasons why she should be voted off the board in next spring’s election.

Sunday, September 2, 2018


Another Open Meetings Violation?

“SCHOOL BOARD” LETTER COULD BRING CHARGES

In an attempt to try to cover the mysterious misspending of thousands of Mercer taxpayer dollars, School District Administrator Erik Torkelson submitted 73 meaningless documents to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  But one document stands out as being the epidemy of flawed judgement.

It was a letter dated May 1, 2018, in which the “Mercer Board of Education” feebly tried to explain two earlier meetings.  “Mercer Board of Education” is in quotes because two of the five signers as board members were not on the board at the time.

The DPI saw through the scheme and pointed out that the May 1 meeting violated the open meetings law because it was never legally posted.  The Iron County district attorney has been asked by several citizens to investigate the matter.

On an earlier occasion, the Mercer school board was found in violation of the open meetings law and was given a harsh warning by the then district attorney never to do it again.  In an earlier incident, Torkelson and the school board were found in violation of the public records law, resulting from a faked hacking scheme, and were ordered to pay a fine and legal fees of $5,000.

Two signers of the May 1 letter, Kelly Kohegyi and Denise Thompson, were booted off the board by voters in elections preceding the May 1, 2018, date.  And two members of the board on that date, Christa Reinert and Karl Anderson, were not advised of the meeting, nor was the public, as is required by law.

In its investigation, the DPI had requested proof that Community Service Fund 80 money had been legally used.  Torkelson submitted the documents without the “real” school board being advised as to what was being submitted, despite requests by Christa and Karl.

On June 5 the DPI discounted almost all the materials submitted and issued 12 findings that there was no documentation supporting the use of $175,248 of taxpayer Fund 80 money in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.  Most of that amount wrongly went into the pockets of Torkelson and a few select staff member as pay and benefits for duties Torkelson falsely claimed were needed to operate the community services programs. (See MSF 5/30/18 The DPI Investigation and 8/2/18 Another Black Eye)

The DPI is still investigating misuse of Fund 80 money for the 2017-18 school year.  Torkelson has appealed the earlier findings.  But that appeal is likely to go nowhere even if more documents like the phony May 1, 2018, letter are fabricated.

Saturday, August 25, 2018


About a Recall

IT TAKES A VILLAGE …

“It takes a village” …  to rid itself of dysfunctional school board members and an inept administrator. Our apologies for distorting this timeless proverb which was used as a book title by a former First Lady.

But it will take “a village”, the people of Mercer, to remove three Mercer school board members -- Noel Brandt, Denna Pierpont and Micki Pierce-Holstrom – and administrator Erik Torkelson.  The talk around Mercer these days is to remove Torkelson by recalling his three puppet board members. (See MSF 8/10/18 Patience Is Wearing Thin)

Actually, all three do not have to be recalled to get rid of Torkelson.  Getting rid of one will do the job because we already have two conscientious board members – Christa Reinert and Karl Anderson – who are dedicated to restoring honesty and transparency to the board.

Mercer residents began the process of cleaning up the school board mess by earlier overwhelmingly voting off the school board Torkelson’s mother-in-law Kelly Kohegyi and lackey Denise Thompson.

Recalls are not easy matters. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has a 20- page guide – Recall of Local Officials --which outlines the required legal steps.  (http://elections.wi.gov.)

Some people think that a recall election means voting a person out of office.   Actually, that person stands for re-election and must have someone running against them or they are automatically voted back in with no opposition.

A recall committee, with a designated treasurer, must open a bank account to receive and expend funds even if it has no plans to do so. A form covering this action and a Statement of Intent to Circulate a Petition must then be submitted to the school district clerk.  The process of circulating petitions can then begin with the number of signatures required equal to 25% of Mercer voters in the last election for the governor.  After the required number of signatures are obtained, the petitions are then given to the school district clerk who has a number of days to determine the “sufficiency of the petitions”.  This involves determining that all of petition signers were legal Mercer voters, which can result in delays if some signatures are challenged.

The recall election must be called six weeks after a “certificate of sufficiency” is filed.  If more than two people file to run for office, a primary election must first be held before the recall election itself.

As you can see, a recall election is not a simple matter.  It requires a group of volunteer workers, considerable “paper work”, and, most important of all, someone willing to run against the person being recalled.

It will “take a village”, the people of Mercer, to get the job done.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Monday’s School Board Meeting

IS DEMOCRACY DEAD IN MERCER?

Mercer residents will get a chance to find out this coming Monday if democracy is dead in Mercer.  By attending the school board meeting beginning at 5 p.m. they will learn if their First Amendment right to free speech continues to be denied.

They were shocked to learn that this basic right had been taken away from them at the July board meeting.  More than 100 citizens went to the meeting expecting to hear what happened to $175,248 of their Community Services Fund 80 money.  A Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction investigation had earlier concluded that no documentation was provided proving how it was used.  (See MSF 8/2/18 Disgusting Debacle and 7/24/18 Scandal Draws National Attention)

Even school board members Christa Reinert and Karl Anderson wanted answers but were denied the right.  In fact, they were threatened not to talk about ANY school affairs.

The order came right from Administrator Erik Torkelson through his number 1 lackey, school board president Noel Brandt.  They tried to place the blame on the school’s attorney, Mary Gerbig.   Everyone knows that no self-respecting attorney, who is sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution, would issue such a gag order.

To assure that his gag order was carried out, Torkelson had two armed deputy sheriffs at the July school board meeting.

Not only had Torkelson removed from the meeting agenda the ever- present time for “public comment”, but he took away “report/information items” and “discussion items” – every chance to find out what happened to the $175,248 of taxpayer money. 

Then, to add insult to injury, Torkelson took away all the chairs in the lunchroom where the more than 100 people, many of them senior citizens, had to stand for two hours while the school board went into closed session.  He apparently had intended that most of them would leave rather than stand and wait out the closed meeting.

Karl Anderson asked that the regular meeting agenda be restored, allowing for the three important missing items.  DENIED!  Christa Reinert asked that answers about the missing funds be provided.  DENIED!

You won’t want to miss the 5 p.m. Monday school board meeting to learn if YOUR First Amendment right to free speech continues to be DENIED!

Friday, August 10, 2018


Patience Is Wearing Thin

MERCER APPEARS RIPE FOR A MAJOR SCHOOL BOARD UPHEAVAL

A “revolution”, of sorts, seems to be in the making in Mercer.  This one, without firearms, is for the removal of one or all three of the Mercer school board members and the firing of the district administrator.  The three board members continue to blindly follow the commands of Administrator Erik Torkelson whose mismanagement has deprived Mercer’s school children of the education they deserve and who misspends taxpayer dollars.

Mercer School Facts has received a multitude of blog comments calling for a recall election.  Most are not published because of repetitiveness.  Even a new Facebook blogsite is overwhelmed with similar pleas.

The composition of the school board presently consists of three members – Noel Brandt, Deanna Pierpont and Micki Pierce-Holstrom – who follow Torkelson’s every misguided command.  The other two members of the board – Christa Reinert and Karl Anderson – were overwhelmingly elected to the board on promises that they would work to restore honesty and transparency and to stop the mismanagement and misspending.  Their attempts have been rebuffed  with harassment and intimidation and even threats.

Based upon comments to this blogsite and in the community, Mercer residents are calling for a recall election and seem impatient about waiting until next spring’s election.  Dennna Pierpont is up for reelection in the spring election and is certain to go down as Torkelson lackeys Kelly Kohegyi and Denise Thompson did in earlier elections.

Nevertheless, there seems to be a ground swell movement for the recall of Micki Pierce-Holstrom.  Many are finding it difficult to accept that Pierce, who as a realtor handles property transactions involving thousands of clients’ dollars, could so miserably and irresponsibly manage the school’s finances.  She was school board treasurer when most of the $200,000 a year of Fund 80 money was mysterious misspent. 

A Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction investigation found that $175,248 of taxpayer Fund 80 money had been misused in the school years 2015-16 and 2016-17, and it continues to investigate other years.  The DPI determined that $145,916 of that amount wrongly went into the pockets of Torkelson and select staff members for duties Torkelson falsely claimed were needed to operate the community services programs.

Now, as school board clerk, Pierce-Holstrom refused to call a special board meeting to discuss the DPI findings, an action required by law when requested by another board member.  Then too, many feel that Pierce-Holstrom’s outburst at the board meeting where she shouted out obscenities, does not set a good example for Mercer’s children and is not befitting conduct for a school board member.

Crandon, Wisconsin, has had outstanding successes with recalling errant school board members.  Until recently it had a situation like Mercer: an administrator who controlled the school board and a dismal management and educational record.  A group of concerned citizens successfully led the recall of one school board member, another resigned under fire and there are now enough signatures for the recall of a third school board member.  The administrator is on administrative leave while the sheriff and district attorney investigate unspecified charges.

Whether Mercer has a recall election or waits until the spring election, there is the critical need for a group of Mercer citizens to step up and lead the reformation, as was done in Crandon.   Some Mercer School Facts blog commenters have suggested that MSF lead the campaign to remove the school board members and Torkelson.  MSF is intended only as an informational and   communication tool.  Although contributors to MSF would most likely be eager to work on a recall, it is not staffed or organized for that purpose.  

So those clamoring for a change in the board and the firing of Torkelson need to get their act together and take action.  It’s not enough simply to talk about change – YOU have to be willing to do something to create change.   

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Another Black Eye

MERCER SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR/SCHOOL BOARD SCANDAL DRAWS NATIONAL ATTENTION

Print and broadcast news media across the nation have focused on Mercer as a  “tiny northwoods school district” with a major “mismanagement and misspending problem”.

The unfavorable but fully justified attention began with a page one exposé in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which documented Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction charges that Mercer school district administrator Erik Torkelson misspent taxpayer-funded Community Services Fund 80 money.   (See MSF 7/11/18 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Slams Torkelson) The state’s largest newspaper is  part of the USA Network, which resulted in the news article being passed on to 500 other television, radio and newspaper outlets, many of which used the story.

Regional news media then did their own research of the charges and published and broadcasted major news stories.

Many Mercer residents have commented that they didn’t see some of the regional news coverage.  Therefore, following is the coverage given by regional media outlets which did excellent jobs in reporting the DPI findings and subsequent related actions.

                                                          *     *     *

WJFW -- Rhinelander
Rose McBride
Reporter/Anchor

DPI finds Mercer School District misused $175,000

MERCER - Two Mercer School Board members, Karl Anderson and Christa Reinert, are facing backlash for questioning finances of the district and the behavior of some of its leaders.

"I get [an] upset stomach thinking about the things that are going on," said Anderson.


Anderson was elected to the five-person board this spring. He ran to support fellow school board member Christa Reinert and to try to correct some of the wrongs he saw happening in the district.

"Some of the facts that have been coming out seem to be waking people up," said Anderson.

Those facts are misuse of taxpayer money, improper raises, and intimidation techniques, which were observed during this interview when a man in a car drove by yelling profanities.

Recent findings by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction show that over the course of the last two years, about $175,000 out of Fund 80 were misused.

Fund 80 is a fund of taxpayer dollars used for community programs at the school.

Instead, the money was used for unapproved payroll increases, and upgrades to the school that didn't benefit the community.

"[It's] very manipulative in a lot of ways, which is very disturbing," said Reinert.

The District Administrator, Erik Torkelson, and Board President, Noel Brandt, issued a statement on the findings saying there were no inappropriate expenditures, which they plan to appeal. The full statement can be found at the bottom of this story.

This isn't the first problem Reinert has seen during her two years on the school board. She said she has been left out of email chains and bullied during school board meetings - all for asking questions on behalf of the students and taxpayers.

"[They say] if you question anything that's going on you're not 'in' with the school, and that's not true," said Reinert.

Reinert says the other three members of the schoolboard support Torkleson, one of the people who benefitted from the unapproved pay raises.

"They're elected officials and I feel like they need to step back from the personal part of all this and do what they're asked to do," said Reinert.

Despite backlash, both Reinert and Anderson were both overwhelming voted into their positions. They have recently seen some support for their efforts.

But many of those people are too afraid to show that support publicly, which is why Reinert and Anderson keep on fighting.

Contact information for the three other board members is not listed publically, and calls to the district seeking that information went unreturned this week.

Anderson called a special school board meeting to discuss the DPI findings, but that meeting has not happened and shows no signs of happening soon. There is a monthly school board meeting on Monday,July 23, but any mention of the findings is left off the agenda.

The full statement from Torkelson and Brandt reads:

We are in the process of discussing the disagreement between the DPI's review and our auditing firm, Eagle Auditing of Park Falls, WI. We have made progress and are confident in a resolution. The DPI's letter clearly states that this is an accounting issue. There were no inappropriate expenditures. It is a simple matter of which fund, 80 or 10, should they have been levied to. There are many lies and conspiracy theories being circulated that are part of the agenda of a small group who have openly campaigned to close our great school. Mercer is a great town filled with many great community members, families and children. Mercer School is filled with talented staff as well as dedicated and respectful students. It is my sincere hope that the Mercer community, as they have done so many times, rallies around their great town and school and silences those who do not believe in the School and town of Mercer.

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KBJR6 -- DULUTH

State agency: Mercer school district misappropriated $175,000 dollars



By Anthony Matt, Reporter



MERCER, WI - A big problem has come to light for the City of Mercer and their school district. 

"There was just a question of who was getting extra money, and how it was being done without board approval," said school board member Christa Reinert. 

Reinert is a two-year member of the Mercer School board. She says the school has something called "Fund 80" - a designated fund, of taxpayer dollars, used to implement community programs at the school. 

Reinert says after noticing a few things were awry with the school's finances, she claimed money from Fund 80 was being misappropriated over the course of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 years. 

"There were inflated numbers based on just doing simple math on the percentages," she said. 

Reinert claims she brought the matter to the attention of other board members, and the district administrator, Erik Torkelson, but they, according to Reinert, did not adequately address it. 

An audit report from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction shows misappropriation of $175,000. Those misappropriated funds were used for unapproved payroll increases, and upgrades to the school that was outside of the Fund 80 guidelines, according to the report. 

"There were things in the District's paperwork that were not complete in terms of information needed to prove that they were using the fund source appropriately," said DPI spokesperson Tom McCarthy. 

Reinert says the Fund 80 dollars swelled over the years, growing from about $3,000 a year to roughly $200,000 on average over the last seven years.

Portions of the fund were used for raises and bonuses for Torkelson, and others, according to the DPI Report. 

Reinert said the school board never approved the increases, something that is required. 

"At the time, the school itself was recording [meetings] on video and providing it on our website for everyone to see. So, it was verified that there was not an open session vote at all on several of the administrative bonuses if you will," said Reinert. 

Reinert's counterpart on the board, Karl Anderson, says he tried to meet with Torkleson to address the discrepancies but claims that meeting never happened, despite a state statute that says his request should have been granted.

"It seems to me the administrator is the one who led us to the point that we're at, and we need to understand as a board and take control of this," said Anderson. 

In all, the DPI audit showed 12 instances of misappropriation, findings the district plans to appeal. 

The DPI has issued a "revenue limit adjustment", meaning the Mercer board will have to cut spending or dip into their reserves to balance the 2018-'19 budget to make up for the misappropriation

The state says a second blow could follow if the district doesn't change their practices for the upcoming year.

Meanwhile, Mercer School District leaders are responding to the report. Here is the formal statement. 

"We are in the process of discussing the disagreement between the DPI's review and our auditing firm, Eagle Auditing of Park Falls, WI. We have made progress and are confident in a resolution. The DPI's letter clearly states that this is an accounting issue. There were no inappropriate expenditures. It is a simple matter of which fund, 80 or 10, should they have been levied to. There are many lies and conspiracy theories being circulated that are part of the agenda of a small group who have openly campaigned to close our great school. Mercer is a great town filled with many great community members, families and children. Mercer School is filled with talented staff as well as dedicated and respectful students. It is my sincere hope that the Mercer community, as they have done so many times, rallies around their great town and school and silences those who do not believe in the School and town of Mercer."-E. Torkelson



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KBJR6 News   DULUTH  

Mercer school district being investigated for test administration and scoring issues

An update to a story we brought you earlier this week regarding the Mercer School District.

KBJR6 has learned there could be an issue with test scores.

A Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction spokesperson said they are looking into allegations of test administration and scoring issues.

This comes after the Wisconsin DPI found 12 instances of misappropriation of funds within the district, totaling $175,000.

District officials have refuted the misappropriation findings, calling it an accounting error, and plan to appeal the findings.

DPI Spokespeople say the investigation into test scores is ongoing, and they won't be releasing any further information until the investigation is complete.