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

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)


  1. It just may be that Torkelson's "Reign of Terror" may be coming to an end.

    Let's get out and vote Kelly out of office Mercer taxpayers.

    Let me thank you in advance.

  2. I wonder if Mercer taxpayers have finally reached their limit as to how much they allow Torkelson, Koheygi, Pierpont, Brandt and Pierce to bilk out of the community?

    I did long ago. Just say NO to Koheygi this election.