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, June 19, 2020



Torkelson’s Contract – Part 3

A “SWEETHEART”, DODGY DEAL

One major misunderstanding about the employment contract of deposed Mercer School District Administrator Erik Torkelson is that it gives him the job for life.  Well, not quite, although the term limits of his contract are contrary to state law. 

First, we need to know that Torkelson’s contract was a “sweetheart” deal signed on February 22, 2011, by his future mother-in-law and then school board President Kelly Kohegyi and her cronies Treasurer Deanna Pierpont, and Clerk Denise Thompson.  In subsequent years, Kohegyi, Pierpont, Thompson, Micki Holmstrom and Noel Brandt became Torkelson’s protectors and never once challenged his autocratic rule.  

Torkelson had no prior experience as an administrator but was given a lucrative salary of $98,000 plus overly generous benefits of about $30,000.

Torkelson’s absurd contract is for an “automatic and continuous term” and ending only after “two years from the date the school board votes to stop the contract from continuing on such automatic and continuous basis”. 

Can you imagine someone being fired from a position and then being allowed to stay on the job for another two years?

The Wisconsin legislature did not provide for automatic and continuous terms when it approved Statute 118.24.  That statute clearly states that an administrator’s contract “may not exceed two years” but allows “one or more extensions of one year each”.  Torkelson’s school board did not limit his contract to two years and never even considered one-year extensions.

Wisconsin Statute 118.24 also provides for a method for terminating a school district administrator.  The school board must give notice that it intends to not renew the contract at least five months before the expiration of a contract.  After the five months and a private or public hearing, if requested, the administrator would be out. 

So, which is it?  If and when the board finally votes to terminate him, does he have two years left on his contract or only five months?   The board can and should have that vote but the resulting confusing could tie things up in a lengthy and expensive dispute.

Three of Torkelson’s minions, Kohegyi, Pierpont and Holmstrom, signed a new contract on July 27, 2017, for a two-year term beginning retroactively to July 1, 2017.  But, again, the new contract did not limit his term to two years as required by law.  The contract provided for an increase in Torkelson’s annual salary from $98,000 to $113,500.  The trio approved the pay raise at a June 26, 2017, school board meeting.  Christa Reinert, a board member at the time and a strong advocate for honesty and transparency, which was then non-existent, voted against the pay raise. 

Nevertheless, Torkelson went on to draft a new contract which included the new salary but also made other changes.  This would have required that the new contract be presented to the full board for approval, which was not done and, therefore, is probably invalid. 

Torkelson’s trio voted to raise his pay to $113,500 from $98,000 even though he was being investigated for the misuse of Community Service Fund 80 money, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction was conducting an investigation into Mercer School teacher test cheating (two teachers subsequently surrendered their licenses), the school district ranked at or near the bottom of all 422 state school districts with the DPI School Report Card score, the school’s ACT composite scores had been consistently  well below state averages, and that he was already taking home salary and benefits much more than his contract allowed, in most years in excess of $150,000. 
  
After Torkelson went on medical leave in June 2019, the school district’s long-term disability insurance carrier began paying him 90% of his $98,000 annual salary, or $88,200 ($102,150 if it accepted $113,500 as his base pay).  Should the insurance company determine that he is no longer disabled and discontinues his payments, the school district could be on the hook for paying him a full salary, unless it finds a way to terminate him. 

Had Torkelson’s “board of stooges” acted responsibly and abided by their sworn oaths of office, the current school board would not be in the predicament it is in by trying to correct a very bad situation.



4 comments:

  1. OK - we keep talking about the elected officials - why haven't they been charged with misconduct in office and/or failure to preform known duties as set by state rules? Torkelson just took advantage of the board not doing their jobs and the tax payers of the Mercer school district. In the mean time the board continues to pay $100+++ per hour to the law firm. The tax payers of the school district just keep feeding them money. It seems that Mercer has a habit of providing administration with the so called "Golden Parachute". What to do????
    File charges against the board members that failed to perform their elected duties. File charges against Mr. Torkelson for fraud/misuse of tax payers money and request that the DPI take his professional certification away for failure to perform his duties and the above listed charges. Buying him out is NOT the answer - that's just giving him another bonus.

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  2. I will say it again. We have Kelly Kohegyi to thank for this mess. How is this not illegal? He took advantage of his position and being her son in law. What also amazes me is Pierpont actually got a bunch of votes in the last election. He has taken our district for over a million dollars. And it just keeps getting better.

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  3. Another news flash. Lorie Boltz is still working at this school as of this past week. Her car was parked behind the school. And another secret tid bit. Find out how many times Tork cashed out his vacation or his comp time whenever he needed money. Was it really 27 times while hewas on the job? Did he draw as much as $15k at one time? Only Deanna and Lorie know for sure.
    This cloud has been hanging over us long enough. Time to fire him and move on.

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  4. Did you know when Jack English was Adm. at Mercer his contract was on going for 5 years while Erik was 2 years. Mercer paid $250,000.00 to get rid of him.

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