SCHOOL FACTS
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






Friday, May 15, 2020


Mounting Legal Cost

THE HIGH COST OF RIGHTING A WRONG


It took Leo Tolstoy 1,200 pages to tell his masterclass tale in “War and Peace”.   And it took Margaret Mitchell years to compose her Pulitzer Prize winning novel “Gone with the Wind”.


So, is the time it is taking and the mounting legal fees being expended to terminate Administrator Erik Torkelson accomplishing anything?


The Mercer School Board since last June has been wrestling with what should be an easy solution.  And it has spent the better part of $62,064.69 on lawyer fees, apparently most of which is for finding a way to terminate Torkelson.  Granted, undoing eight years of mismanagement and misspending seems like a daunting task. 


But, the board appears to have overlooked some easy solutions like hiring an accounting firm to do a forensic audit or asking the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office to investigate how Torkelson managed to pay himself well in excess of what his contract allowed, misspending thousands of dollars of taxpayer funded Community Service Fund 80 money, and the other possible misuses of school funds. (The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction earlier ruled that Torkelson had misspent $185,465 of Fund 80 money in two years. It did not investigate the other six years of Torkelson’s reign.)


The School Board has held numerous closed sessions to “discuss administrator’s leave status, and to potentially take action regarding same”, with “no action taken”.  


Many Mercer citizens have been asking why it is taking so long to terminate Torkelson and why has $62,064.69 been spent with the outside law firm.  Certainly, the School Board needed to know the legal ramifications of firing Torkelson, but that should have been a simple legal issue.


So, are the lawyers being used to negotiate a separation agreement?  If they are, then the School District should come out multi-dollars ahead considering the money Torkelson would be required to pay back to the school.  Some estimates have placed that amount in excess salary payments alone at $160,000. 


Mercer School Facts on March 5 published a blog “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day” asking for patience.  But that was more than two months ago and still “no action taken”.  


Its purpose is to report news and information – facts – about Mercer School Board and Administration issues and overall school academic performance.  It is intended to keep Mercer citizens aware of the management and inner workings of the school.  It is not a school newspaper; therefore, it will not report school sports events or individual student or teacher activities/accomplishments.  MSF pledges that all news reports will be thoroughly researched and supported by school, state and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction documentation.

16 comments:

  1. One thing to consider. We do not know the terms of his contract. I said a long time ago that Kohegyi and then Pierpont have written and pushed through a contract that took care of Torkelson for life. And who knows what the severance clause is. Didnt I read that at Torkelsons option, the contract can be automatically renewed every two years for another two yesrs.
    There is no unwinding this mess without paying.

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    1. There’s nothing secret about Torkelson’s contract. It is available to anyone who asks for it. Most of the terms are pretty standard and, as much as people would like to believe, Kohegyi and Pierpont didn’t have much to do with the its contents. Their mistake was in hiring an unqualified, unexperienced future son-in-law of Kohegyi at a ridiculous salary ($98,000) and with lavish benefits, and then letting him pay himself far in excess of what the contract provided.

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    2. The term for Torkelson’s contract is straight out of Wisconsin Statute 118.24(6) School district administrator. His contract reads: “This contract is for an automatic and continuous term beginning July 1, 2011, and ending two (2) years from the date the school board votes to stop the contract from continuing on such automatic and continuous basis.” In other words, the school board needs to take no action unless it votes not to renew the contract. His contract also includes a “Termination/Non-renewal” provision which allows Torkelson to receive 2% of his pay ($1,960) if he and the board agree to part ways.

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  2. Like I have said before, this school board has wasted over 1 year in terminating the the big mistake of Torkelson. All they had to do was give him notice of intent not to rehire.

    What can they possibly be waiting for?

    I also wonder if the new law firm has in any shape, manner or form been involved with the school or Torkelson prior to this? If so that is a conflict of interest now.

    Also why did the new board not do a legitimate search for a new district administrator? Did they take the easy way out? Seems like that is all they try to do.

    Close the place down. It's better for the students and the taxpayers. And no need to worry about Torkelson's contract.

    PROBLEM SOLVED.

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    1. Closing the school will not be good for the young families or the taxpayers. Taxes will go up if the school closes, property values will go down and young families will leave because of no school. Then what will happen to this town?

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    2. The question of whether there is a conflict of interest by using the same law firm Torkelson hired to using it now to terminate him is a good one. Torkelson originally hired Mary Gerbig of the law firm of Davis & Kuelthau to, among other things, try to get rid of his critics, namely Mercer School Facts and Cbrista Reinert. Gerbig joined the law firm of Buelow Vetter Buikema Olson & Vliet in August 2019, the law firm now representing the Mercer School District. She apparently took the Mercer School account with her, although there was no school board action approving the change. So, you be the judge – is there a conflict of interest?

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    3. In fact, taxes will go down. The absence of a school has nothing to do with property values. Practically all new buyers of Mercer properties are retirees or vacation homeowners. Young families are not here because of the school. They would welcome a better education for their children which could be gotten by being a part of the Hurley School District.

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    4. If young families are here because of the school they certainly haven’t looked at the terrible rating the school has.

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    5. Property taxes in Hurley School District are higher than Mercer, so yes, our property taxes would go up

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  3. Anonymous 10:53 a.m. neglected to mention that there is a sure way out for getting rid of Torkelson under the terms of his contract. Under section “II Duties” he is required to “perform at a professional level of competence the services, duties and obligations required by the laws of the State of Wisconsin.” There is plenty of evidence that he didn’t perform at a “professional level of competence” when you consider the school’s “pathetic” ACT and DPI School Report Card scores and his manner of dealing people who questioned his actions.

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    1. Agsin, what is the board waiting for? Misappropriating funds should be enough by itself.

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    2. And Torkelson paid himself more than what his contract stated. And the business manager Boltz went along with it.

      How much more obvious can it be? Do you need more evidence?

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  4. If the school board and its attorney are working on how much money Torkelson must pay back to the school that he wrongly took, it also needs to include any additional amount of salary he took in excess of $98,000 after July 2017. His 2011 contract provided for an annual salary of $98,000. In July 2017, Pierpont, Holmstrom and Kohegyi signed a new contract giving him a salary of $113,500. That contract was never approved by the school board. Check the board agendas and minutes. Strangely that contract, which supposedly began on July 1, 2017, was not signed until July 27, 2017. Also if the long term insurance company is paying him 90% of the $113,500 as provided in the policy, the insurance company should be advised to recover the $15,500 excess annual amount.

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  5. Last night’s “zoom” meeting of the Mercer school board was a disaster. Most of the time the video didn’t work and the audio was frequently garbled. We hope the board does something to fix the situation, like getting a professional AV person in to run the show. Bob Davis and the board members’ hearts are in the right place by conducting meetings in the open, which didn’t happen under Torkelson and the old school board.

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    Replies
    1. A heart in the right place is still not getting any results. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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  6. Torkelson will negotiate a severance thatvwill includd cash plus insurance. That’s why its taking so long. I hope I am wrong but if it wss easy it would be done.
    Who ever thinks are taxes go down by closing the school should explore the topics of assessed evaluation. Both for our community and surroundingcommunities we would consider combining with. Ask your county board member about the percentage Mercer pays of Iron Countys budget. It will be the same relative to school budgeting. Its not as simple as miltiplying the number of students we have times what it costs at Hurley per student. Doesnt work that way

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