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




Sunday, June 23, 2019


The Secret Settlement
HOW MUCH DID THE FUND 80 FIASCO COST TAXPAYERS?
You have to wonder why the Mercer School Board’s settlement with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for the District’s Fund 80 abuses was approved in closed session and Mercer residents have not been told what it involves.
The reason for the secrecy may be because the savings from the District’s appeal was not all that great.  It appears that the District was still on the hook for about $125,000, plus legal fees, for improperly using Fund 80 Community Services funds.  The DPI had originally claimed that $185,465 had been misused.
Lawyer-written settlements, by nature, are difficult for the layman to understand.  However, the settlement, effective May 8, 2019, and signed by Bob Davis, president of the Mercer School Board, and Michael Thompson, DPI deputy superintendent, requires the District to pay the DPI $37,214.95. The DPI received the District’s check on June 3. 
On the surface, a payment of $37,214.95 to settle an original $185,465.42 claim for misuse of taxpayer Fund 80 seems like a good deal. However, the settlement agreement seems to have actually cost Mercer taxpayers a total of approximately $125,000, plus unreimbursed legal fees.  As the result of a District appeal, the DPI accepted explanations of eligible Fund 80 expenses for about $60,000, reversing its original decision. The DPI disallowed the use of the Fund 80 to pay salaries and benefits to Administrator Erik Torkelson and several staff members.
However, maybe it wasn’t such a good deal when adding the $37,214.95 to what appears to be $87,300.11.  This money was withheld from the District in 2016-17 state aid funds for Fund 80 abuses.
The legal fees paid for filing an appeal could amount to the better part of about $37,000.  Since Torkelson hired Mary Gerbig of the Davis-Kuelthau law firm in April 2018, about $70,000 has been paid through April to the firm, $33,000 of which has been reimbursed by the District’s insurer. 
The settlement agreement also notes: “Certain School District expenditures were incorrectly identified as Fund 80 expenditures instead of Fund 10 expenditures, but those certain expenditures were otherwise utilized appropriately for public school operations.”
The settlement is also intended to prevent the abuses of the past by requiring that the School District “shall implement a corrective action plan”.  The plan requires that the District “shall maintain documentation demonstrating the eligibility of any expenditures in Fund 80”. 
So, whatever the settlement’s actual cost, Torkelson’s blunder has been costly for Mercer taxpayers. 

 
 

 

18 comments:

  1. My question is why we pay any money to the DPI? I believe the Mercer District receives almost zero state aid. So it wouldnt be a reimbursement to the DPI. And I would hope that full disclosure would reveal all the actual costs. I hope Bob Davis isnt just more of the same Tork Tunes we have had to listen to the past 8 years. I guess I realize why Karl Anderson resigned.

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  2. The Mercer school does receive state and federal aid. It is a small amount compared with other neighboring school districts.

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  3. How can the board vote for this settlement in a closed session? My understanding is that discussions can be held in closed session but any action must take place in open session of the board. What board members attended this closed session?

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    1. It wasn't voted on in closed session. The following is from the April minutes:

      RECONVENE TO OPEN SESSION: Motion by Karl Anderson, seconded by Jim Hannemann to return to open session. All ayes, motion carried 4-0. Returned to open session at 7:37 p.m.



      Motion by Jim Hannemann, seconded by Karl Anderson to act to accept the proposed settlement agreement for DPI Case #18-OLS-01 pending final revision and execution. All ayes, motion carried 4-0.

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    2. But the agreement was finalized on May 8 and the check paid on June 5. We’ve had the May and June school board meetings at which the contents of the agreement could have been discussed. But nothing. In fact Torkelson never allowed the initial DPI findings of the misuse of the $185,000 to be disclosed and those were issued on June 25, 2018.

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  4. ALL MERCER TAXPAYERS ARE PAYING BIG TIME FOR THESE FUND 80 SERICE BUT THEY ARE USED BY VERY FEW.

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    1. School districts can charge users of Fund 80 services. A nominal charge for the meals provided, the day care services, the use of the workout and computer rooms, etc. would be in order. The charges would not be mandatory but could be on a basis of ability to pay.

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    2. Signup sheets should be required for every service used. For instance, persons eating meals under the Fund 80 would be required to print their names and provide their signatures and the date.

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  5. As taxpayers, we already paid for Fund 80. Why should we pay again to use the facilities, ect

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    1. All taxpayers are now paying the full amount for the Fund 80 services. If users of the services paid for the services they used, the Fund 80 assessment for all taxpayers could be reduced.

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  6. The issue is not about who uses the services. The issue is what everything concerning fund 80 really costs. We will never know any of this

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  7. The true cost of Eric Torkelson as administrator, of what we have paid him, plus what he has cost us will never be known. There is the email hacking scheme, the fines and the legal fees. There is the China trip with no accounting of the costs. Now the fund 80 fiasco. Now the district and the taxpayers have to be taxed to pay the fines, the legal fees and who knows what additional costs. All the while he gets to keep the money he was paid on what he blames on an accounting error. In the private sector he would have been sent packing a long time ago.
    And then I heard the board member who hired him under her watch and later brought us 50 Shades of Grey is being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Perfect.

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  8. We had hoped that the new SB president would want open discussion of all school issues. But no mention of the school’s Fund 80 settlement with the DPI although the agreement became effective May 8. Will we ever hear from the SB how badly Torkelson screwed up and confirm what it cost us taxpayers?

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  9. This has to be a joke! Kelly Kohegyi to be inducted into the Mercer Hall of Fame. The only things we know she is famous for is showing the dirty movie “50 Shades of Grey” to young Mercer school girls which brought disgrace on our town, hiring her unqualified son-in-law as administrator, and presiding as school board president while thousands of taxpayer dollars were wasted and the kids educations suffered.

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  10. Maybe Jim H can explain why the agreement hasn’t been made public. We voted him in to change the culture and transparency of things.

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  11. The China trip was at no cost... and paid for by China Schools! I know as I was there...and set it up.. as was JFK's speechwriters son...Steve... and we would both attest to this! But this is not what you want!

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  12. As far as Kelly Kohegyi being in the hall of fame, she should be in the "Hall of Shame!" Have you no morals mercer????

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  13. The board never saw the original 72 page response to the dpi,(dpi provided it per a request) which included hand written tallies of tax payers eating lunch and breakfast, hand written time sheets of staff being paid from fund 80, no response or explanation of administrative pay, etc, etc. Now there's a three person board and no resolution in place to replace these positions, oh wait Karl and Christa tried to put it on the agendas for Feb, Mar and April, how to resolve filling these. They were denied the agenda items the other morons didn't show for those meetings to get anything done. The tax payers that can vote need to vote NO on the budget for 2019/2020, like I did on the 2018/19 budget because it includes fund 80. The school won't close, the district will b forced to present a budget that allows this district to live within its means and to quit screwing the tax payers and worse the students. Pure incompetence is running that school and soon enough it will b too late. The fund balance was $1 million 5 years ago and on Monday Hannemann said it's $200+K. WAKE UP MERCER, U R WATCHING THE FALL OF YOUR SCHOOL!! June 30 2018, expenditures report was -$104,000 in the red. What will it b on Sunday?? I'll bet more than what's left in the fund balance. Then what, borrow? PURE INSANITY!!

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