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Wilkerson counters that Liberty "walked in here two days before school started" and that most of the tuition had already been paid by students into Liberty's accounts and spent by Liberty. Eastlake was suddenly supposed to pay $60,000 a month in Liberty administrative salaries but didn't get the tuition money to do it.
"I tried to help them. Twenty-one thousand dollars is what they raised going for the year, and they had salaries of $60,000 a month," Wilkerson says. "They had an income of $11,000 a month. You take salaries of $60,000 a month and put them against an income of $11,000 a month not including books, supplies and not including anything else, and you ask me who could have supported it?"
Although Liberty has cleared out of Eastlake and is considered defunct now, some issues remain, Williams says. Some Liberty teachers opted to have their salaries paid in smaller monthly amounts throughout the year, rather than only receiving checks during the school year. Some claim they were never paid and are still trying to get their money, Williams says.
"They wanted to get paid for the summer. We can show you the pay stubs. We paid them through the school year," Wilkerson says. "They wanted to get paid because they said Liberty told them they would get paid through the summer. They weren't working for us...I give you my word."
Wilkerson denies there was ever anything close to a merger of the schools. Representatives from Liberty came to Eastlake and took back anything that once belonged to the high school, and Wilkerson claims neither Liberty ownership nor Liberty debt.
Although Wilkerson says the high school is still alive and well, offering high school classes under Eastlake's name, fewer than 30 students remain. As far as Williams is concerned, Liberty is dead. And, although Williams has now ensured that Liberty's original debts were paid, Liberty's financial reputation is ruined. What's worse, Williams says, Wilkerson blames Liberty for the failure.
"He always has an excuse. There is always somebody else to blame. That is his forte, in fact. As soon as things start falling apart, if you cross him, you are a deceptive, lying, cheating, ne'er-do-well," Williams says. "I don't think he ever had any intention of paying the bills we brought over there."
Williams says that in retrospect they should have been more wary of Wilkerson. But they wanted Liberty to stay alive and were perhaps blinded by promises of someone who seemed to be offering salvation. It was Wilkerson who "stuck his neck out" and "appeared to have everything to lose," Williams says, and they trusted him because of it.
"We were just appreciative. Here's a guy who's made a lot of money, that appears to be very sincere, that wants to see these two schools succeed and grow...When he doesn't pay the bills, then is when you realize you do have something to lose," Williams says. "We put a lot of personal money and five years of our lives into this, and there were a lot of others who did the same thing. It should have succeeded."
The two-story brick church and school building on Easton Road in East Dallas appears to be a pleasant and attractive learning environment. It seems quiet, but it has hardly been calm since Charles Wilkerson and company came to town.
Dr. Larry Wilson, who arrived at Eastlake as school administrator in 1993 and stayed until this fall, says the 20-year-old school was never a big moneymaker, but it was solvent while he was working there, and any financial problems were not insurmountable. The school was adding a grade every year and had added the eighth grade by fall 2000. Dallas First Assembly of God owned the property but had plans to build a new church at another location.
"Dallas First Assembly bought some other property, and they were going to move their building...They had no place for the school, and so when they were talking to Wilkerson, he had all this fantastic experience running schools and colleges," Wilson says. "He was willing to leave the school right here and take care of it, and it sounded like a win-win situation for everybody."
Wilkerson doesn't agree Eastlake's financial outlook was so rosy before he arrived and says he took on a great burden in deciding to keep the school open.
"It was losing $80,000 a year, and the year before it got $200,000 stolen from it. I've got their balance sheet," Wilkerson says. "They didn't have any money. I had to put $80,000 in the day we took the building over."
The Reverend Tom McMahan, whose church building and school Wilkerson purchased, says Wilkerson is not correct. The school made money some years and was a break-even operation at worst. What's more, he says, any money that was taken from the church was recovered by McMahan's church and had no effect on the eventual sale to Wilkerson. In fact, McMahan says, if the school was as great a liability as Wilkerson claims, no bank would have financed the operation as Wilkerson did.
Everyone agrees that if it weren't for Wilkerson or someone like him, Eastlake Christian School and Daycare would have to either move or close.