Cost per student Mercer $25,097,
Wis. $13,505, Nation $11,762
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 421 Wis. districts

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Lesson to be Learned
Do you remember McKInstry, the engineering company Mercer School District Administrator Erik Torkelson and School Board President Noel Brandt wanted to hire to manage a $4 million school improvement project?  Well, the firm was involved in a major bribery scandal which cost the administrator in another school district his job.  
Crandon School District Administrator Doug Kryder had been on paid administrative leave for nearly seven months while he was under police investigation for possible misconduct in office.  Now, Kryder is out of a job.  In accepting Kryder’s resignation, the Crandon School Board said that “it was mutually agreed that separation was best for all parties involved”.
The investigation revealed that a McKinstry executive offered Kryder low-cost Las Vegas golf vacations and free meals and drinks at conferences, according to email uncovered in the investigation.  Forest County District Attorney Chuck Simono said that the emails also referenced trips to the Kentucky Derby and the  Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls area.  Simono said that Kryder accepted the company’s offers more than once, an allegation Kryder denied. 
Kryder later advised the Crandon School Board to sign a nearly million-dollar contract with McKinstry to make energy efficiency improvements in the school. 
At the conclusion of the investigation, Simono decided not to charge Kryder with misconduct in office.  But Simono said Kryder committed “ethical violations” in his dealings with McKinstry. 
While he was the administrator, Kryder came under major criticism by school staff members and community residents for having a heavy-handed and arbitrary management style.  He controlled the five-member school board, which would do as commanded, a Crandon resident said.  (Sound familiar?)
A Crandon community group called Citizens United for Education was formed and demanded Kryder’s removal.  The group also led massive community recall campaigns, which resulted in removing two of the five Crandon School Board members.  A third member resigned, and a fourth new member has been elected to the board.   This has changed the entire posture of board, making it now responsive to staff, students and community interests, the resident added.
At about the same time the Crandon situation was developing, McKinstry was invited into the Mercer School by Torkelson and Brandt to do a facilities improvement plan.  A long list of projects was produced which would have cost about $4 million, plus about $2 million in interest.  When it became apparent that Mercer voter approval of a $6 million tax increase referendum would most certainly fail, the plan was dropped. 
Although Forest County DA Simono did not charge McKinstry with a crime, he said he asked the Wisconsin Department of Justice to investigate McKinstry’s business practices with schools across the state.
At the same time the DA said McKinstry was showering the Crandon administrator with gifts, McKinstry made a $250 scholarship donation to the Crandon school.  Guess what!  While McKinstry was courting Torkelson the firm gave a $250 scholarship donation to the Mercer school.  (Receipt No. 724718, dated 6/1/17)


  1. Very interesting! This doesn’t suggest that anything was wrong with McKinstry’s dealings in Mercer, but it does show how a community became aroused about an issue and did something about it.

  2. It’s a good thing that the Mercer school didn’t get involved in something like what happen in Crandon. Like the heading said “A Lesson to be Learned”.

  3. In the old west, Torkelson would have been a snake oil salesman. Here are just a few of what I believe are some of his scams. The "gift" of Fund 80 as he called it, the great China connection, calling an education at Mercer School the "gold standard of education", his 20 page document from DPI totally exonerating him, only being able to provide a proposed school budget hours before it is due to the state, the playground is "teeming" with people, the hockey rink, built twice and saying that there would be hockey tournaments there, the fact that he never has a 40 hour work week as District Administrator (he's frequently gone), and taking more pay than he is legally entitled too.

    One of my favorites though is the infamous boiler. Watch out, it's going to blow!

    And I almost forgot, did he he ever get his PHD?

  4. Don’t forget hiring Lori Boltz to do payroll! (Red flag)

  5. Mercer School FactsMay 22, 2019 at 1:04 PM

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  6. It is worth noting that the evaporation of China connection has, to the best of my knowledge, never been explained to the community. It was touted and entered into but then fell silent. While in China, Torkelson moved away from the primary satellite education provider and pursued other collaboration ventures in China. I believe this to be true because I inquired about it myself about two years ago via email and the director of American operations for SEP told me that nothing ever developed from his initial contact with Mercer because said observation. So why then did Torkelson publicly state at one point, during school morning announcements, (I was there to hear it) that a "contract" had been signed with China a few years in? My point in offering this under this topic of Beware of Those Bearing Gifts is that in what setting is it considered normal to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars (not to mention administrative time) to travel and commiserate with a foreign business/agency, and then later not explain why the project ended? It is reasonable, given the history of Torkelson and the Mercer School Board, to speculate that he has been moonlighting this entire time to his benefit. Or that perhaps he got the district entangled into a contract that simply self destructed. Whatever the reasons, Torkelson and crew hide information when they should be sharing it out of common sense and integrity. But instead of earning the public's trust, they act like people who are up to no good. Would anyone paying attention even be surprised if they were caught taking bribes?