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 421 Wis. schools

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The 2019-20 School Budget
For many years school districts across the state have been ripping off taxpayers for hundreds of thousands of dollars with a school tax known as Community Services Fund 80.  And Mercer is no different from the rest.

Fund 80 was set up by the State Legislature as a means to finance the use of school facilities by community members.  School districts can charge any taxable amount over and above allowable tax revenue limits for Fund 80 services, and without taxpayer approval.  However, the legislation allows school districts to charge for the use of the services, something Mercer has never done.

None of the Fund 80 money is used for the education of Mercer’s children, and, by law, it cannot be. 

Wisconsin State Senator Frank Lasee must have had the Mercer school district in mind when he said that Fund 80 was an “administrator’s dream and a taxpayer’s nightmare.”  He called school administrators “bad actors who are stealing our tax dollars”.

For the school year ended June 30, 2019, the Mercer school district budgeted $250,000 for Fund 80 Services.  According to the recently released proposed 2019-20 budget $147,774 was actually spent.  The unused monies will make up the difference in the 2019-20 budget.

But now get this, instead of eliminating Fund 80 altogether or at least reducing it significantly, the new school board and new administrator want to waste $227,372 of taxpayer money in 2019-20.

The irony is that all taxpayers pay for the Fund 80 services which are used by but a few people, and even non-residents have been invited in.  Legitimate records of who uses which service are conveniently not kept so there is no way of knowing how many people actually eat the free meals on the taxpayers’ dime, or how few use the school’s workout room, computer lab or walking track.  Believe it or not, thousands of Fund 80 dollars are used to clean the walking track which is the school’s main corridor upon which the students tread every day.  Fund 80 is also used to provide free nursery school care for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds.

Mercer residents will recall that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction ruled that former Administrator Erik Torkelson has misused $185,465 of Fund 80 money in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.  The school district ended up paying $124,515 to settle that claim, plus about another $37,000 in legal fees.  The DPI did not investigate the misuse of Fund 80 in other years or it surely would have found that huge additional amounts of money were misspent.

Before Torkelson was hired in 2011, the school’s Fund 80 yearly budget averaged $3,225.  But he and his school board cronies seized upon the opportunity to supplement his pay and the pay of select staff members using taxpayer Fund 80 money, while at the same time building a patronage system.  The budgeted amount immediately shot up to $257,000 in his first year on the job and it has amounted to about one-quarter of million dollars every year since.

But taxpayers have a way to put an end to this wasteful use of their tax dollars.  They can refuse to approve the proposed budget at the October 28 annual school district meeting.  This would force the school board and administrator to redo the Fund 80 budget and eliminate a lot of the nonsense.  If a service is worth keeping, then charge those people who use it.  For example, keeping nursery care and charging a reasonable fee for that service would make sense.   





  1. I hate to say I told you so, however, I told you so. Only way out of this mess is to close Mercer School and consolidate with another district.

    The students will benefit with more opportunities and a better education. The taxpayers will benefit by knowing their tax dollars aren't ending up in a few peoples pockets.

    Seems like a win-win to me.

  2. If you never used the walking track? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you have never taken $400 for sitting in the Paw Shop? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you never had your "free" lunch at the school? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you never used the school playground? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you never used the ice hockey rink? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you never used the School's Forest Trails? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you never used the school's WI-Fi? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you never used the school computers? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you never used the school's weight room? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you don't think the school employees should get bonuses? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you don't think the kids are getting the education they deserve and what you are paying for? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If you think that Mercer School is still being mismanaged? Attend the Annual Meeting.

    If like me you find all of these things a gross misuse of taxpayer funds, Attend the Annual Meeting.

    Attend the Annual Meeting and vote NO to the 2019-2020 Mercer School Budget.

  3. It’s time to charge for the daycare part of the fund 80. While it’s tough to find child care around the Northwoods, it shouldn’t be free and cost all the taxpayers. If you have to pay a babysitter, it is around $8-$10 an hour. Charge $15 a day for the kids to be there. That would cover daily food and the person who is caring for them. It’s not the communities responsibility to find and pay for your children's babysitting.

    1. Camp Jorn charges for daycare, why shouldn’t Mercer School. I think the $15 a day maybe to low, charge $20. Obviously the person in charge has to have some type of daycare license, plus insurance in case any of the little ones get hurt right? So I believe it should be $20 per day so the community is not footing the bill for other parents lack of paying for childcare.

  4. I partially agree. Consolidate with Hurley on the condition that the Mercer school be kept open for grades K-8. Bus the high school kids to Hurley where they could get a quality education. I know some folks who have done the math and contrary to Mercer’s school taxes going up with a consolidation, they would actually go down.

    1. To really be cost effective, close the whole school. You still the cost of heat, electric, administration, etc for the building. And for how many kids then?

      They will still suck money out of the taxpayers, for all the frivolous useless expenses.

  5. I have had comments posted here many times. I hope this one gets posted. First of all, our first option should be fixing what needs fixing in our school. When your comments speak closing the school and saving money that is not correct. The key to this is to check our assessed evaluation compared to Hurley. The formula for school costs and funding would be nearly the same as county taxes are apportioned. I believe Mercer pays close to 48% of the county bill, while Hurley pays 7%. In combining districts there is no way currently to equalize property values. If the same formula applies to school funding as county tax levy, we would instead have a tax increase. We need to work on fixing what we have and solve the budget issues. A good start would be to send a message by sending the budget back to the board for streamlining.

    1. I totally disagree with you. How many years has this been going on? How many more kids have to suffer? Sometimes you just can't fix what is broken. Mercer School appears to be a prime example of this.

      Even if there is a tax increase to provide a better education and future for the kids, it is money well spent. Sure beats unapproved bonuses, walking track, free meals, etc.

  6. Keep raising the taxes in Mercer. The young won't move here and the young won't stay.

    1. The "young" don't move here and if they do they are smart enough to send to their kids to North Lakeland, Lakeland Union of Hurley for a real education.

  7. Hurley vs Mercer. Hurley fund 10 budget $7.0 million with tax levy $2.92 million = 42% of that budget. Mercer fund 10 budget $3.1 million with tax levy $2.23 million = 72% (plus fund 80 which is a direct RE tax). Hurley's general fund balance $3.5 million (49% of fund 10), Mercer fund balance $206,911 (6% of fund 10)= NO EMERGENCY MONEY FOR EXPENSES! In the budget, interest on short term borrowing has nearly quadrupled since 2017-18.

    Hurley school board put $1.372 million into expansion project. Mercer school board borrowed $139,000 to repair roof/soffit (loa over 20 yrs cost $200,000+). Both districts are declaring the lowest mil rates in 30 yrs, however Hurley's decreased by 3x what Mercers did (Hurley $.94/$1,000 and Mercer $.31/$1,000), yet the levy is 72% of Mercers fund 10 budget.

    Also, no consideration for Wealth Management in Mercer with the need to borrow money to sustain basic maintenance. And the cost per student is approximately $13,500 in Hurley and Mercer's is approximately $26,057!
    Consolidation seems like a fiscally and ethically responsible idea!

  8. This is all good information. But the assessed evaluation needs to be addressed as to how the taxation is calculated in terms of mil rate. Hurley is one of the districts with the lowest assessed evaluation and Mercer’s assessed evaluation is much more. I use the county tax levy as my example. Adding ours would probably result in a loss of much of the state aid Hurley receives.
    I would also like to know how much Torkelson is still costing the district.
    Its also obvious that without the referendum, fund 80 and the continued depletion of the fund balance we cannot feasibly maintain the proper business model to keep the school without making better decisions.