Cost per student Mercer $26,433,
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, September 25, 2020

Friday, August 7, 2020


Torkelson’s Separation Agreement



Mercer taxpayers may not know it, but they coughed up $80,000 in cash to get rid of deposed Mercer School District Administrator Erik Torkelson.


The payment was made to Torkelson on June 29, according to the school district’s June summary check register.  Other details are contained in a June 22, 2020 “Separation Agreement and General Release”, which is being circulated throughout the district.


The Mercer School Board was being criticized for not disclosing the terms of Torkelson’s separation.  However, a “Confidentially” clause in the agreement prohibited the district from disclosing the terms, unless a public records request was made, which was done by a Mercer citizen.


 Other considerations in the agreement require that the district pay $1,260 as its share of Torkelson’s Wisconsin Retirement System for the 2019-20 school year.  Additionally, the district will provide Torkelson with dental insurance coverage through June 30, 2021.


The school board had been negotiating getting rid of Torkelson, using its attorney, since after he reportedly had a stroke in mid-June 2019 and was placed on medical leave. Some part of $85,824 paid to the district’s’ law firm from June 2019 through June 2020 most likely involved those negotiations.


During his medical leave Torkelson was paid by the district’s long-term disability insurance carrier. School records show that for the 2019-20 school year he was also paid $41,138 in salary and $7,644 in benefits, probably for the time before and after the disability insurance was in effect.   


The school board may face public criticism for paying Torkelson anything.  In fact, the argument could be made that he should have been required to pay back the many thousands of dollars he overpaid himself since becoming administrator in 2011.  In some years he took home more than $150,000 in salary and benefits, when his contract was for $98,000 in salary plus about $30,000 in benefits.


Then, too, there was the Fund 80 money which the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction found he had misspent.  For just the two years that the DPI investigated, it ruled that he misused $185,464, including paying himself for undocumented Fund 80 services.  The DPI did not investigate Fund 80 misspending in other years, and if it had, it would most likely would have found additional Fund 80 misuses.  The school district settled the DPI claim for about $125,000, including the district’s legal fees.    


The separation agreement stipulates that Torkelson will not “seek employment with the District at any time in the future…in any capacity”.  It also prevents Torkelson and the school district from filing any future claims.


However, nothing can prevent an individual from filing a civil lawsuit to force Torkelson and his former school board minions to pay back to the school the many taxpayer dollars that were wrongfully used.


The separation agreement considered that Torkelson’s contract would have run through June 30, 2021.   The board was faced with taking him back as administrator until then, which could result in additional misspending and mismanagement, or face a drawn-out lawsuit with possible huge legal fees and other costs.


So, it was probably a good choice by the school board.  Pay him off, get rid of the nightmare the school had lived through during his tenure, and move on. 


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