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, April 16, 2021


The Finale -- Looking Back


History has many unsung heroes who have accomplished many good deeds but received little or no recognition.  Mercer too has such heroes who pioneered in attempts to rid the Mercer School of an administration and school board which misused school funds and neglected the education of our children.

The efforts of these heroes have been successful as made clear by the removal, one by one, of corrupt school board members and the end of the despotic rule of Administrator Erik Torkelson.  A new school board and administrator are now in charge, and the managing of school finances and attention to academic results seem to be headed in the right direction.

In the early days of Torkelson’s reign of mismanagement some of the first challengers to his arbitrary and bullying methods were Gerri Reynolds and Ellen Kerwin.  Reynolds, a former school business manager in another district, was fully qualified to focus on and speak out about the many things wrong with the operation of the school.  She and Kerwin took constant abuse for their efforts and Kerwin was even threatened with the loss of her job if she did not stop being a critic.  Both subsequently moved away in disgust.  

Other earlier champions of the cause to clean up the school’s management mess were Paul Juske and his wife Judy.  Paul Juske, a former teacher and holder of an advanced degree in education, ran for election to the school board three times and lost by narrow margins.  He was the victim of dirty tricks campaigns, which even involved attacks on a family member.  Juske’s mailbox was smashed (the only one of many on his road) and the air was let out of his tires. They, too, moved away in disgust.

The Juskes were the first to question the misuse of Community Services Fund 80 which later resulted in a major investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  At one point an anonymous defamatory flyer attacking Juske with many falsehoods was illegally composed and printed at the school and then mailed to all Mercer residents by the then, but since deposed, school board clerk.  The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board ruled that the flyer was illegal and urged that the then Iron County district attorney take legal action.  The “do-nothing” DA at the time did nothing.

Another unsung hero was Dick Thiede who on a couple of occasions meticulously researched and exposed, among other things, a school board and administrator scheme to “intentionally misrepresent or conceal important facts and deceive Mercer taxpayers” concerning a school tax referendum.  The deception led to passage of the referendum which cost taxpayers three times as much as promised. 

Other later champions who attempted to clean up the school’s administrative mess were Christa Reinert and Karl Anderson, who were each elected to the board but not without more dirty tricks.  Torkelson and his school board stooges went after Reinert with a vengeance. 

Reinert was instrumental in exposing the “50 Shades of Grey” scandal which involved a Mercer school board member and a teacher showing the sexually explicit R-rated movie to young schoolgirls.  News of the sordid affair went viral nationally and damaged the reputation of Mercer.

The Torkelson regime began to fall apart when another hero, a former teacher, reported a test cheating scandal involving at least two teachers and possibly others.  The two surrendered their teaching licenses.  The news of the test cheating scandal seemed to coincide with Torkelson having a stroke.  A year later he was removed from office.

The former school board and administrator’s record includes: a conviction for violating the state’s public records law; charges for violating the open meetings law and destroying a public record; a six-figure settlement for illegally using school funds; and dismal academic performance which ranked the Mercer School in very last place of Wisconsin’s 424 school districts.

And then there were the enablers, minions and stooges who supported the corrupt school system.  Thankfully, they are now out of the picture. 

There are other unsung heroes too numerous to mention, including the Mercer residents who saw through the smokescreen of lies and deception and supported the heroes we have named.  They and others like them  have done an exemplary job.  There is every reason to believe that the future of the Mercer School is bright.  

The mission of Mercer School Facts has been to bring these issues to light and to encourage those interested in that future.  Perhaps we can now say “Mission Accomplished”.  Perhaps now there is no need to continue Mercer School Facts.

We end, then, with only adios, sayonara, shalom, au revoir and GOODBYE.



  1. What hell these poor people went through. Although there may be a few townspeople that are appreciative, there certainly are not enough that show it. All those that just stood back and stayed silent and didn't step up to do the right thing. They did this because they said it was a small town and they didn't want to ruffle anyone's feathers.

    But I have to wonder why anyone would want to stay in this town?

  2. The school is now in good hands. The new administrator – Sheri Kopka – and four of the five school board members – Bob Davis, Jim Hannemann, Sue Loth and Steve Botes – are intelligent and capable of the task of building a good academic program. They should now address the issue as to whether it is practical for the Mercer School to remain a K12 school or to consolidate with Hurley, keep Mercer as a K8 and bus the high school kids to Hurley where they can get a well- rounded education.

  3. Mercer School Facts has done an excellent job in reporting the efforts of others to “clean up the administrative mess”. Now we can rely on the Iron County Miner to give us its usual good coverage of Mercer school board meetings and other school events. If you don’t already subscribe to the Miner, you really should. It’s our county’s only newspaper and deserves our support.

  4. You people are blind. The school is NOT doing well. Walk the hallways. Decreasing student count, no spirit, teacher turnover is very high, morale very low, students are unruly (teachers cannot do their job as a result). That is not a definition of success. The list goes on and on. Im a parent with young kids at the school so I see the environment. The board may be getting the policies fixed but that is all that is fixed. See ya MSF!!

  5. The true heroes are the teachers both former and present. ie..Kay Krans, Pam Leverson, Grant Nelson, Elizabeth Lancelle, Debby McGrath, Sue Benzel, Mary Fitzgerald and so many other staff members who were victims under the Torkelson Administration!!!!!f

    1. A very sad part to all of this is that Torkelson walked away from all his bad deeds and nothing happened to him. The School Boards, both past and present, should be ashamed of what they allowed to happen.

    2. I agree. They deserve justice as do all the students that were robbed of a quality education.