TORKELSON COMP. $146,359
Contract $98,000; Benefits $30,000
Wis. DPI Supt. comp. $121,307
Cost per student Mercer $20,146,
Wis. $12,942, Nation $10,667
ACT comp. score Mercer 17.0,
Wis. 19.6, Lakeland UHS 20.0,
Hurley 18.7; perfect score 36.0
Mercer DPI Report Card score
lowest of all 422 Wis. schools





Tuesday, April 9, 2019


THE D.A.’S VIEW OF THE SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS’ CHARGES

"These are school board members that are not acting as they should under state law," Tingstad said. "It appears that they’re doing what they want to do with the school board and (they’re) not committed to following any kind of laws here as far as they should be following." (From the transcript of the following NPR broadcast.)

WISCONSIN

PUBLIC RADIO

Wisconsin and the World - NPR

Members of Mercer School Board Charged With Misconduct
Charges Filed In Iron County Circuit Court Against Current, Former School Board Members
By Danielle Kaeding
Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2019, 10:10am
Several current and former members of one northern Wisconsin school board have been charged with misconduct in office or falsely acting as a public official.
The charges stem from destruction of a public record and two individuals falsely claiming to be members of the Mercer School Board.
Criminal complaints filed Friday in Iron County Circuit Court say the Mercer School Board sent a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction last May to explain questions that came up from an audit by DPI.
DPI clawed back around $175,000 from the district last year for inappropriately spending money from its "Fund 80" account that reserves money for community programs and services, according to a DPI letter dated June 26, posted on the blog Mercer School Facts. The agency found the fund was used without proper documentation to increase wages and benefits for a few district employees, including district administrator Erik Torkelson.
Deanna Pierpont, Denise Thompson, Michele "Micki" Holmstrom, Colleen "Kelly" Kohegyi, and Noel Brandt all signed a May 1 letter providing details on how money was spent from the fund, according to the complaints.
But, there was a problem, said Iron County District Attorney Matthew Tingstad: "There was two that weren’t school members that were appearing as if they were school board members."
Two of the five, Thompson and Kohegyi, were not school board members at the time of the letter. The complaint details Kohegyi had been defeated in an election a month before and Thompson hadn’t served on the board since 2016.
Christa Reinert, a current school board member who defeated Thompson in 2016, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year she encountered pushback from board members when she started asking questions about how the district was spending money.  
"The other three that were school board members, held a meeting, submitting this letter, knowing that it wasn’t the school board — that there were two individuals on there that weren’t part of the school board," Tingstad said.
Pierpont, Holmstrom and Brandt are charged with felony misconduct in office, and Thompson and Kohegyi are charged with felony falsely exercising a role of public office.
Tingstad said the five are facing felony charges that could bring up to a $10,000 fine or three years in prison.
In addition, former school board president Deanna Pierpont is facing an additional misconduct charge after telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she erased a video of a school board meeting.
"These are school board members that are not acting as they should under state law," Tingstad said. "It appears that they’re doing what they want to do with the school board and (they’re) not committed to following any kind of laws here as far as they should be following."

A DPI spokeswoman wrote in an email Monday the agency is in ongoing discussions with Mercer to resolve an issue with the district’s misuse of its account for community programs. She said DPI is unaware of any criminal activity in connection with that issue.
Pierpont, Holmstrom and Brandt are still serving on the school board.
Attempts to reach four of the five individuals charged and district administrator Erik Torkelson were unsuccessful Monday. Kohegyi declined to comment. 
Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2019, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

17 comments:

  1. Hopefully they dig deeper!!!

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  2. Hey Brandt, did you do the right thing?

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  3. This was so wrong in the beginning when Torkelson mother n law was on school board. So sorry this all is happening to our school. I'm so embarrassed.

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  4. I can only think of 1 person more deserving of charges, Torkelson.

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  5. I read a Facebook post by a Bill Brundage who apparently does not read or comprehend very well. He said that the Mercer School Facts blogs about the charges filed by the DA “were talking out of your wrong extremity.” (Whatever that means) He also said that the reporting was the product of a “poisonious (his spelling) pen.” Everything I have read in the MSF blogs is based strictly on court documents with no editorializing. And I haven’t read any “false accusations”. This guy, whoever he is, does a disservice to the defendants, the school and the community. Your town does not need people like this.

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    1. In fact MSF went out of way to point out that the defendants must be considered innocent until proven guilty.

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  6. I would like to commend Mercer School Facts for keeping this site from becoming a battle ground. After reading the past postings I seem to have more questions than answers. Question one is "Who wrote the letter from the school board?" Number two - "Who requested that said board members sign the letter?" Number three - "When did schools start giving a bonus to select member of the staff and at what board meeting did it get approval?". Number 4 - "Why is Ms. Boltz still an employee of the district and why are we paying two people to do one job?". And last - "Would it not be smart to move the pending legal actions to another county because of possible conflicts of interest?". Keep up the good work.

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  7. I don’t live in your community and I’m glad I don’t. You have a few very sick people like Micah Magma who calls those who have investigated, charged and then reported what may be some serious crimes “a lynch mob.” He goes on to say that “the lynch mob” degrades and brings disgrace to the community,” not the people charged who may be bringing “disgrace to the community.” I hope the good people of your town recognize a very sick minded person as the one who is causing the “negative notoriety.”

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  8. Are us, the taxpayers, paying for the lawyers representing the 5 school board members? Is anyone checking into how the tactic of not showing up for school board meetings to prevent accepting Noel B. resigning letter? Was that way to keep the position off the recent ballot?

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  9. We need to recognize Boltz is being paid for her silence. Rest assured there is a non disclosure clause in her contract. I believe a Contract that Crista tried to unsuccessfully obtain a copy.
    Was Torkelson given the performance bonus in the same year he or the school was assessed a $5000 fine in the alleged email hacking scheme he concocted? Wouldnt that be an ironic twist. Dont think Brandt didnt see this coming. He knew because of the investigation that trouble was coming. And now his wife is on social media asking whats wrong/blaming the peopleof Mercer and emphatically declaring how glad she is to be out of Mercer. Lie until you die ala kelly kohegyi.
    Its time for us to demand Micki Pierce’s resignation or face a recall.

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    1. I am waiting for the DPI and the state to investigate the Annual Meeting Voting at Mercer. That event was a farce. Might as well have people in Duluth vote in our school district. No affidavit sign-in. No verification of qualified electors. No count of qualified electors present. No control of unqualified should voice or show of hands vote occur. No controlled ballots handed directly to qualified voters of the school district at validation. No sense of privacy in the voting. People walking around with handfuls of ballots to pass out. No control on double voting, qualified voting. No validation to the number of votes to the count of qualified voters. It was a farce but seriously, I expected it to be this way as it has been demonstrated before. To top It off, I think I heard NOT ONE PENNY has been paid in salaries from the FUND 80 by Admin. Torkelson. Not one penny. Deep breath. Students are losing out. 422:422 is the proof.

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    2. I am waiting on the review of the DPI regarding special education policy/procedures at Mercer School. The horror of the lacking of policy/procedures required by the state should make us all cringe. The parents should still be in an uproar about it but I hear and see nothing. Teacher is still employed. Family forced to move to protect their child. I view it as "Not my kid, not my problem." Shame on the Board and the admin that they hired and the teacher hired for the specific role of Special Education. Shame on us to abuse a child and call it education.

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    3. Mercer School FactsApril 13, 2019 at 9:40 PM

      The DPI did conduct an investigation and issued finding that the Mercer School District failed to “properly develop and implement” a federal and state required individualized education program (IEP) for a nonverbal, blind-deaf child whose parents said they took him out of the school over their concern for his “safety and well-being.”
      The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issued a 1,524 word, four-page report citing the school’s failure to follow IEP rules for the five-and-half-year-old child and ordered the school to provide a “corrective action plan” for other children enrolled as IEP students.
      You will be hearing more from the parents in the near future
      See 12/8/18 blog “More Woes for Torkelson”.

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    4. The DPI issued a report. The DPI didnt fine them or take them to task and I have not heard that anything has changed at the school, that new policies and procedures are in place. Nothing. The DPI is as much part of the problem as the DA in his slowness to act or the area leaders to stop embracing questionable practices. Their Mugwump attitude has produced this financial mess and Last place standing in the state.

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  10. Everyone should be thankful that our DA (Matt Tingstad) decided to do the correct action by bringing charges to those who have chosen to commit crimes and hide information. With Mr. Tingstad's help the Mercer community will soon learn the truth. Those involved know that the facts are about to come out to the public. Sadly, the Mercer taxpayers will be on the hook for the bills that are sure to be significant. Many cannot understand how what seemed to be prominent residents of Mercer could become such poor examples for our children. So many should and will be held in account for their actions. If I was Micki Pierce Holmstrom I would be looking to distance myself from this quickly. Imagine being in a business were honesty, trust, and integrity are the core of what you do and being in the center of this mess. I was told by someone trusted that this is just the beginning of a mess that will unfold over the rest of the year. So far, we can all agree on one point, the children of Mercer are the losers and this must change.

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  11. I heard thru the grapevine that Noel has retracted his resignation. Well, that was a great financial move for him. He gets his salary, at a meeting or not, in the area or not. And, he is included in all the correspondence happening around the school, with the DPI, with the courts and with Torkelson. There isnt anything that the taxpayers can do about it until it is time for him to run for office again. I believe thta even if he is convicted that he can still hold the office until his term is up. And of course, I suppose he is hoping that Torkelson will help him with funding and maybe an attorney paid for by us in this debacle! That said, I dont think that the taxpayers should be paying for any of their individual actions. We will see who is representing these 5 on April 22nd. I think we should all keep up to date on https://wcca.wicourts.gov/

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    1. According to Mercer’s Board of Education Policy Manuel Bylaws 0142.5(H), a vacancy on the board occurs if a board member moves his/her residence out of the area (in this case, the school district). If Brandt has indeed moved and primarily resides elsewhere, he’s just begging Tingstad to slap another felony on him for misconduct in office, acting in excess of authority, especially if he tries to conduct any official board business.

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