TORKELSON COMP. $165,963
Contract $98,000; Benefits $30,000
3rd highest paid of state's 424 admin.
Wis. DPI Supt comp. $121,307
Cost per student Mercer $24,910,
Wis. $12,942, Nation $10,667
Mercer DPI Report Card score
lowest of all 422 Wis. schools




Wednesday, April 17, 2019


From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

CHARGES AGAINST “MERCER FIVE” GOES NATIONAL

Annysa Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has done it again with an excellent job of reporting, this time about the criminal felony charges against the five present and former Mercer School Board members.  The Journal Sentinel is a part of the Gannett Media Group which published USA Today and owns numerous other major national print and broadcast operations.  Articles in the Journal Sentinel are frequently used by the Gannett sister media outlets.  Following is the Journal Sentinel news story.

Latest turmoil for tiny Northwoods district: Felony charges filed against 5 current and former school board members

Annysa Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Published 10:24 a.m. CT April 17, 2019 | Updated 10:39 a.m. CT April 17, 2019
 


 

Five current and former board members of a tiny Northwoods school district are facing felony charges for allegedly falsifying a letter to the state Department of Public Instruction and, in one case, destroying a video of a heated board meeting.

The charges are the latest development for the Mercer School District, which drew national attention in 2016 after two of its girls volleyball coaches — one is among those charged — allowed some players to watch the sexploitation flick "50 Shades of Grey" en route to a tournament.

The charges stem from an investigation by DPI in response to a complaint by board member Christa Reinert, an angry-volleyball-parent-turned-whistleblower who ran for office in part because of the "50 Shades" debacle.





The charges, filed in Iron County Circuit Court, accuse board members Deanna Pierpont, Michele Holmstrom and Noel Brandt of misconduct in office; and former members Denise Thompson and Colleen "Kelly" Kohegyi of falsely exercising a function of public office.



The five signed a May 1, 2018, letter to DPI detailing how they voted in closed session to give $18,000 in bonuses to District Administrator Erik Torkelson and three others, without acknowledging the votes in any minutes. All five identified themselves as board members, though two had lost their seats the month before.
 
Pierpont faces a second charge of misconduct for allegedly deleting a video recording of a heated school board meeting in October 2017. In an interview months later, Pierpont told the Journal Sentinel that she had erased it and that Mercer no longer records its meetings.

"I didn't like what I saw. ... People in the audience were yelling. Students were there. ... I just felt that I didn't want that out on the website," she said at the time.

Efforts to reach the five were not immediately successful.

Last summer, DPI issued a finding that the Mercer School District inappropriately spent about $175,000 from its community programs and services account — otherwise known as "Fund 80" — over the 2015-'16 and 2016-'17 school years. Most of that was used to boost wages and benefits for a small group of employees, including Torkelson, who is also Kohegyi's son-in-law, without adequate documentation, according to the letter.

DPI also admonished board members for voting on bonuses in closed session. State law allows votes in closed session, but only in limited cases, and the state Department of Justice advises elected bodies not to do so, unless "doing so would compromise the need for the closed session."

Mercer challenged DPI's findings, and Torkelson said Tuesday that the two sides are in mediation to resolve the dispute.

Reinert, who has taken on the role of board watchdog, lost her seat April 2 but said she will continue to push for transparency and accountability in the Mercer schools. She said she recently delivered a new cache of documents to the Iron County District Attorney's Office.

Contact Annysa Johnson at anjohnson@jrn.com or 414-224-2061. Follow her on Twitter at @JSEdbeat. And join the Journal Sentinel conversation about education issues at www.facebook.com/groups/WisconsinEducation.

5 comments:

  1. More bad publicity for the Town of Mercer. I feel sorry for your small town and hope that you don’t lose any tourism dollars because of all the negative publicity surrounding the school! We will still continue to come up and visit but may stay away from any businesses that are run by all members of the school board past and present. It’s one huge mess you got on your hands.

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    1. Some of the organizations in town support these 5 by not questioning them and defending even though there have been questions. They defend and at the same time demerit those who do follow statutes, want our students to be number one, not #422 of 422 schools in the state. I suppose they can have an opinion (unsupported with facts) but the viciousness of the attacks on those who have law on their side is what makes this a terrible thing. People who call this page 'toilet paper' need to realize that they are supporting the wrong horses.

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  2. Watch for the Torkelson stooges to try to blame the bad publicity on the news media and people who complained about the possible breaking of the law – on everyone except those responsible for their acts which led to the bad publicity.

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  3. If anyone feels this kind of notoriety is bringing shame on our town remember it is not the news media or the good people who are trying to clean up this mess. It’s the perpetrators of the acts themselves.

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  4. Going to be an interesting week for the Mercer School. Those of you who still do not believe that bad deeds have been done should consider some facts that cannot be argued. First, the previous district attorney of Iron County warned the school district several years ago about their conduct. The current district attorney had little choice but to file charges after the Iron County Sheriffs Department investigated. Felony charges are not a small deal. Felony charges are also not charged unless law enforcement has what they feel is solid evidence. Those who wish to spin the details and water down the truth are misguided. The issues are a cancer on the Mercer School that could easily bring it down if left to fester as it has. Mercer is a very small school left to struggle to survive in a shrinking business. Future Northwoods school consolidations are likely imminent. Mercer is not the strong school with total community support it once was. Clean up the mess and rebuild for the future or lay back and watch the school be destroyed.

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