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

National $10,667

Saturday, March 17, 2018


From the Woods Person Blogsite 

We received the following as a comment on an old post this AM.  Good questions and not the first time we've been asked.   If anybody knows the answers, please comment below.  A school board response would be helpful to all

I am a part-time resident and taxpayer in Mercer, WI. I have some questions for the Mercer, WI school board and administration which I would like to have answered in this public forum.

First, I received information last fall concerning a possible increase in property taxes for the school to be used to do “essential” facility repairs. There were, as I understand, two public meetings with consultants on the building’s needs and funding options present. The figure I was given indicated the school wanted to borrow $3 million to accomplish these projects. Questions: What happened? I have heard nothing since November. Has the district borrowed the $3 million?

Second, public records show the district operated at a deficit of over $250,000 last year. The budget document I received in November of 2016 did not show a projected deficit. Questions: How did the district not predict this budget deficit? In light of the need to make building repairs, will there be another fund balance decrease this year? 


Christa A. ReinertMarch 10, 2018 at 11:27 AM

I will do my best as I just received the 2015-16 audit which I have compared to the 2016-17 audit that I also just received. First of all, the 16-17 audit shows a $405,000 deficit with a $125,926 decrease in Federal funding from 15-16 ($382,835 federal awards) to 16-17 ($256,909 federal awards)and the state support remained the similar 15-16 $245,632 and 16-17 $254,440. The 2016 audit does show Fund 80 was $48,610 over budget with a Levy of $175,000 and total expenditures $223,610. but I believe there was a carry over from the previous year. To answer your question on whether the board knew about the Federal funding decrease, my answer is NO as I was not a part of the budget process, including the Fund 80 budget which state law dictates the board is responsible for developing the Fund 80 budget. I was given my copy of the "PROPOSED BUDGET" 48 hours before the annual meeting. The board also never voted to accept the proposed budget to then bring it to the annual meeting. Why you may ask? I have voiced my concern with this process to the Board President, Pierpont and I am denied any answer for two years. Your question regarding the proposed referendum that would actually cost the district tax payers $5.9 million over 20 years was FIRST brought up since Sept, at the February board meeting by Noel Brandt. He stated that he is working on estimates for only a few projects mentioned last fall, prioritizing what needs to be done first and he stated the leaking roofs and improving the security system are most urgent. I asked how these will be paid for, he stated we can use fund 45 or 47 he wasn't sure to save money to then proceed with these projects. I then said, so we won't be looking for a referendum? And Erik T. chimed in and said well yeah we may need to do both. I stated that on a time line, there would not be a referendum in April, it would have to be with a general election in November per state law. Noel agreed. I then said, so I don't get it, if we prioritize two projects per year, we will be looking to go to referendum every year to help pay for these repairs/upgrades? I got no straight answer. The district has not secured any loan that I am aware of pertaining to repairs. The district did borrow $200,000 in either Nov or Dec 2017 to pay bills and it has been paid back with interest, I again was not made aware of this loan even though our district policy states it takes a 2/3 vote of the board of education to approve any borrowing. These are only a few of the issues at hand, I have voiced my concerns to Pierpont with how this board does not follow the law and district policy. I have been told repeatedly by her, we have hired Erik to run this school and that's what he is doing. The Mercer tax payers need to start paying attention before it's too late for the school's continued existence. I hope this has helped. Christa Reinert

Monday, March 12, 2018

Another Failing Grade
Have you wondered who in the Mercer school office is using a school credit card and what is being charged?  Or what about the gasoline being charged, or the Best Buy and Amazon account charges for which there is no reporting on what is being purchased and by whom? 
As a taxpayer, who is footing the bill, you should want to know because big bucks are involved.  You would think that the school’s auditors, Eagle Audit & Accounting, would also like to know because in its audit for the school year ended June 30, 2017, it noted a “significant deficiency of the purchase order policy and consistent use.”  It sounds like what Eagle Audit is suggesting is that credit charge accounts should not be used and that purchase orders, which clearly show what is being purchased and by whom, should be used instead. 
“Purchase orders provide additional control over budgeting, approval, receipt and recording over the procurement function,” Eagle Audit noted.  “Our audit procedures disclosed instances of purchase orders not being used...”
Most school boards in other districts have eliminated the use credit cards because of the high potential for their misuse.  In a Minneapolis school district the superintendent faces multiple theft and embezzlement charges resulting from the alleged misuse a school credit card.  (See MSF 3/4/18 Power of the People)
Mercer School Board member Christa Reinert has asked that the monthly expense and receipt report, which is routinely and blindly approved by the school board, show the purpose of the each expenditure.  She has received no response to her request.
And these unidentified purchases are not small potatoes.  Just this January someone used the school credit card and charged $2,215.  For all of 2017 the credit card charges totaled $28,317, with one month as high $6,851.  For 2016 the charges totaled $26,497, and for 2015 $25,532.
Gasoline charged at local stations totaled $225 this January, and $2,286 for 2017.  On-line purchases from the school were $928 this January, $6,892 in 2017; and $13,890 in 2016.  In January someone made a $692 purchase from Best Buy.
After these purchases were made they were then blindly approved by the school board without knowing who made them or what had been charged. But if you eliminate the use credit cards and charge accounts in favor of purchase orders then everyone will know what is being charged and by whom.   
Coming soon:  More irregularities citied in the audit report.
Restore honesty and transparency to the School Board

Sunday, March 4, 2018



An Interesting Case Study
It all began with a small group of Shakopee, Minnesota, citizens questioning the use of the school’s credit card and has resulted in that district’s superintendent now facing multiple theft and embezzlement charges. The FBI and local and state police all became involved in the investigation.  Now a purge of the school board is being sought for allowing the alleged thefts to occur.  The following news story reflects the need for citizens everywhere to take an active interest in their governing bodies and to demand total transparency.     

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune
Vowing transparency, Shakopee School District, City Hall work to rebuild trust
Fiscal scandal activated community watchdogs
By Liz Sawyer Star Tribune
Shakopee city and school administrators are scrambling to regain public trust as emboldened local activists try to root out misconduct in the wake of a recent scandal.
Superintendent Rod Thompson resigned last summer in the midst of a police investigation that uncovered more than $70,000 in fraudulent charges and improper reimbursements since he took office in 2012.
Thompson faces dozens of charges of theft and embezzlement in Scott County District Court. Groups like Friends & Concerned Taxpayers of Shakopee (FACT) pushed for a criminal probe and are now demanding a purge of the school board for failing to recognize what they call rampant and unchecked overspending.
“We were told, ‘There’s nothing to see here; everything is fine,’ ” said Carrie Ferris of FACT. She says her group was initially dismissed as a bunch of conspiracy theorists for questioning financial discrepancies in the schools. “No, they knew full well what was going on.”
A group of about a dozen community members launched FACT after failing to get the answers they sought from district leaders. Jane Hochhalter, a local accountant, helped sift through financial documents for irregularities. She became skeptical when she saw entire budget items zeroed out.
“If I made this error in my job, I would be fired,” said Hochhalter. “[School board members] keep on saying that they want to move forward, but the issue for us is that we can’t move forward until we know what happened — and the people who are responsible for what happened are held accountable.”
District administrators say they’ve toughened school credit card control measures and formed a committee to monitor spending.
School board Chairman Scott Swanson said his chief mistake was trusting a man who ultimately betrayed him and taxpayers.
The only good that has come from this painful ordeal, activists say, is that parents and taxpayers are paying closer attention.
Restore honesty and transparency to the School Board

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Scores Are In
It’s already well documented that Mercer School Administrator Erik Torkelson and his school board lackeys are failures at running a school. But now they have proven equally inept at managing a dirty tricks campaign.  Their latest attempt to smear school board candidate Karl Anderson has failed.
Karl is a candidate in the April election to unseat Kelly Kohegyi, Torkelson’s mother-in-law.  In addition to the ever present Kohegyi/Torkelson conflict of interest issue, Kohegyi has tarnished the Mercer name with widespread negative publicity resulting from her showing the sexually explicit movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” to young school girls in the back seat of her vehicle.
The first dirty trick by Torkelson and his gang was to spread the rumor that Karl wanted to close the school.  That backfired when Karl stated the exact opposite: that he wants to keep the school and improve the quality of education for the students.  That can be translated into: get rid of Torkelson and dump his four school board stooges.
Now the Torkelson gang is trying to discredit Karl’s service as a school board member some years ago.  They are saying that he cost Mercer taxpayers a lot of money by awarding a lucrative severance package to former administrator Jack English.
This one is sure to backfire because it was the school board on which Torkelson supporter Denise Thompson had served that awarded the overly generous contract to English -- not the board on which Karl served.  And the amount involved, $137,500, is not as ridiculous as the more than $300,000 it would take to get rid of Torkelson.   Torkelson’s exorbitant contract was given to him by mother-in- law Kohegyi and school board President Deanna Pierpont. 
Karl was only one of four school board members voting to let English go.  And this was after about 250 Mercer residents and a number of teachers petitioned the board to remove English.
Torkelson is desperate and can’t risk having another member on the school board, in addition to Christa Reinert, who would insist on honesty and transparency.  Karl would work with Christa to rebuild the educational programs so that Mercer would not continue to rank at the bottom of all 21 northern Wisconsin schools with its ACT and School Report Card scores.  And they would insist on eliminating wasteful spending while protecting the best interests of the students, parents and taxpayers.
So the dirty tricks campaign continues in trying to keep Karl off of the school board.  But, the latest one has failed.   What’s next: claiming that Karl will eliminate sports or the janitors – two other dirty tricks rumors coming out of the rumor mill on Highway 51? 
Restore honesty and transparency to the School Board

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Mercer School Board Election
The dirty-tricks campaign to keep Karl Anderson from being elected to the Mercer school board is in high gear.  Karl is running in the April election to unseat Kelly Kohegyi, mother-in-law of Administrator Erik Torkelson.
Aside from the high potential for a conflict of interest, there is a movement to remove Kohegyi because of the black eye she gave Mercer when she showed the sexually explicit movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” to young school girls in the back seat of her vehicle.  That act resulted in Mercer receiving nationwide, even international, embarrassing notoriety.
One of the favorite dirty tricks of Torkelson and his stooges is to claim that Karl wants to close the school.  They have used this before in attempts to defeat earlier school board candidates who were a threat to Torkelson’s poor management style and money-grabbing methods. 
But one of Karl’s true interest in serving on the board is to assure that our community continues to have a school, not close it.  He is a strong believer in providing a quality education for Mercer children in order to prepare them for the future.  When elected, he will serve alongside Christa Reinert, who has the same as her objective.  For this, Christa has been harassed and intimidated by Torkelson, Kohegyi and school board President Deanna Pierpont.  Torkelson can’t risk having Karl join Christa on the school board because it could mean the end of his failed tenure as Mercer’s administrator.
Karl’s and Christa’s motivation of keeping the school and greatly improving the students’ education seems contrary to the objectives of Torkelson, Kohegyi and Pierpont, who appear to be satisfied with Mercer being at the bottom of the list of 21 northern Wisconsin schools with its ACT an DPI school report card scores. It is not the students or school that is failing, it is Torkelson’s leadership, aided by his school board lackeys.  Also, it is not the school that should be closed, but the people removed who are responsible for failing the students and the community.
Karl had served on the school board some years ago. When he did, the Mercer ACT scores exceeded the state average.  Now the ACT scores trail far behind.  Also, Mercer taxpayers were not being ripped off with wasteful spending of their tax dollars.
The rumor mill from which some of the dirty tricks seems to be flowing is a business operated by a Torkelson supporter, who was voted off of the board in an earlier election.
So, Torkelson, try another one of your dirty tricks. The “closing school” one still won’t work.
Restore honesty and transparency to the School Board

Friday, February 9, 2018

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

Restore honesty and transparency to the School Board

Thursday, February 1, 2018

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

Restore honesty and transparency to the School Board

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Feds Becoming Involving


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


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

Restore Honesty and Transparency to the School Board

Saturday, January 20, 2018




The Actual Recording

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

Restore Honesty and Transparency to the School Board

Monday, January 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 7, 2018

GREAT News for Mercer!

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


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

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

Here’s how the Mercer composite score compares:

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here's how Mercer compares to other area schools:

Mellen              78.3 Exceeds Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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