DPI finds Mercer School District misused $175,000 Submitted: 07/20/2018

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MERCER - Two Mercer School Board members, Karl Anderson and Christa Reinert, are facing backlash for questioning finances of the district and the behavior of some of its leaders. 

"I get [an] upset stomach thinking about the things that are going on," said Anderson.

Anderson was elected to the five-person board this spring. He ran to support fellow school board member Christa Reinert and to try to correct some of the wrongs he saw happening in the district. 

"Some of the facts that have been coming out seem to be waking people up," said Anderson.

Those facts are misuse of taxpayer money, improper raises, and intimidation techniques, which were observed during this interview when a man in a car drove by yelling profanities.

Recent findings by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction show that over the course of the last two years, about $175,000 out of Fund 80 were misused.

Fund 80 is a fund of taxpayer dollars used for community programs at the school. 

Instead, the money was used for unapproved payroll increases, and upgrades to the school that didn't benefit the community. 

"[It's] very manipulative in a lot of ways, which is very disturbing," said Reinert.

The District Administrator, Erik Torkelson, and Board President, Noel Brandt, issued a statement on the findings saying there were no inappropriate expenditures, which they plan to appeal. The full statement can be found at the bottom of this story.

This isn't the first problem Reinert has seen during her two years on the school board. She said she has been left out of email chains and bullied during school board meetings - all for asking questions on behalf of the students and taxpayers. 

"[They say] if you question anything that's going on you're not 'in' with the school, and that's not true," said Reinert. 

Reinert says the other three members of the schoolboard support Torkleson, one of the people who benefitted from the unapproved pay raises. 

"They're elected officials and I feel like they need to step back from the personal part of all this and do what they're asked to do," said Reinert. 

Despite backlash, both Reinert and Anderson were both overwhelming voted into their positions. They have recently seen some support for their efforts.

But many of those people are too afraid to show that support publicly, which is why Reinert and Anderson keep on fighting. 

Contact information for the three other board members is not listed publically, and calls to the district seeking that information went unreturned this week.

Anderson called a special school board meeting to discuss the DPI findings, but that meeting has not happened and shows no signs of happening soon. There is a monthly school board meeting on Monday,July 23, but any mention of the findings is left off the agenda. 

The full statement from Torkelson and Brandt reads: 

We are in the process of discussing the disagreement between the DPI's review and our auditing firm, Eagle Auditing of Park Falls, WI. We have made progress and are confident in a resolution. The DPI's letter clearly states that this is an accounting issue. There were no inappropriate expenditures. It is a simple matter of which fund, 80 or 10, should they have been levied to. There are many lies and conspiracy theories being circulated that are part of the agenda of a small group who have openly campaigned to close our great school. Mercer is a great town filled with many great community members, families and children. Mercer School is filled with talented staff as well as dedicated and respectful students. It is my sincere hope that the Mercer community, as they have done so many times, rallies around their great town and school and silences those who do not believe in the School and town of Mercer.

Story By: Rose McBride

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