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, January 23, 2020

Dismantling an Autocracy


By now the Mercer School Board must realize, as do most Mercer residents, that former Administrator Erik Torkelson must be permanently terminated.  The new board has had at least seven months of trying to clean up the academic, administrative and financial mess Torkelson left behind.  (He has been out on medical leave since last June.)

The school board may not need to act regarding Torkelson’s employment status if a legal contract does not exist.  And that may just be the case.  The deciding factor is whether Torkelson had submitted an acceptance letter to the school board for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 contract period, which would have been required before April 1, 2019. 

Under Wisconsin Statute 118.24, School District Administrator, the term of a district administrator’s contract may not exceed two years.  If a school board does not give notice of renewal or refusal to renew a contract, it continues in force for another two years.  No such notice was given to Torkelson when the contact’s term expired at the end of June 2019, so it was automatically extended another two years until June 2021.

However, as pointed out, the catch is that the administrator must accept or reject the contract three months before the expiration date.  For the contact period 2017-18 and 2018-19 Torkelson did submit an acceptance letter to the board on March 29, 2017. 

If, for some reason, the school board is concerned that Torkelson may have a legitimate contract, then it has other means for terminating him.  One way involves dismissing him on the basis that, as required in his contract, he failed “to perform at a professional level of competence the services, duties and obligations” required by Wisconsin laws and the school’s job description, policies and procedures.  That should be easy to prove based on the school’s failed academic results and the documented misuse of school funds.

The other method involved board action which must be taken at its January 27 meeting.  

Wisconsin Statute 118. 24 says that a school board can refuse to renew an administrator’s contract, but it must give notice that it intends to do so five months prior to the expiration of a contract, or before February 1 in Torkelson’s case.  The administrator then has seven days to request a private or public hearing.  

If a school board then decides to proceed with the action to not renew it must give the administrator a formal notice at least four months before expiration of the contract, or by March 1 in Torkelson’s case.

So, here’s the schedule the board must follow in getting rid of Torkelson:

·        Do nothing if the school’s attorney determines that there is not a legal contract in force. 

·        OR, if Torkelson has a legal contract, remove him on the basis that he failed “to perform at a professional level of competence.”

·        OR, before February 1 – serve Torkelson with a notice that it intends to not renew his contract.

·        Before March 1 – serve him with the official notice that it will not renew his contract.

·        July 1 – Rejoice that the school has cleansed itself of the mismanagement and misspending that prevailed for eight years.


  1. Even if the school board has to pay Torkelson money to get rid of him it would be money ahead. If he is allowed back in the school, school taxes would continue to be wasted and misspent.

    1. But what about the all the money he and his buddies have taken from the school? Not to mention that he should lose his license and pension.

  2. Does anyone have any credible chatter about which way the board is leaning to?

  3. The agenda for the Monday night’s closed session is “to discuss administrator leave status, and to potentially take action regarding same.” Let’s hope that this is the end of Torkelson.

  4. I have a hard time accepting that we are just as much in the dark about the financial situation at the school now as under Torkelson. We should be given the costs of all these items. Medical leave, possible buy outs, legal expenses. We have a right to know. Considering Pierpont is trying to make a comeback as she got us in this mess, put the real costs out there. Vote Hank for school board.

    1. I would love to see the financials, but I am sure since it’s regarding personal that it is protected legally. It’s not right, but the board may have no choice!

  5. The financials are not protected - fact is that they are considered public record. Freedom of information.

  6. Close this money pit already.

  7. Hopefully this is last day of Torkelson being with the school!

  8. Please update us on the school board meeting ASAP for those of us that couldn’t make it tonight!