Reverend Fix-It

Itinerant minister Charles Wilkerson promised to restore two ailing Christian schools to financial health. So why did the patients take a turn for the worse?

The Reverend Charles Wilkerson fell to the floor at the bottom of the staircase. He clutched his chest and curled into the fetal position. The Eastlake Christian School and Daycare investor and church pastor was having a heart attack. Or so it seemed. Administrators ran down the school hallway to help him.

Wilkerson was under a lot of pressure that day and understandably so. The previous summer he had purchased the 20-year-old elementary school and church building. Before classes started for about 200 children in the elementary school, Wilkerson agreed to take students from a financially ailing Dallas private high school and add grades eight through 12 to Eastlake's existing elementary school and day care. Wilkerson, who claims to have a doctorate and wide experience in school administration, seemed to be a savior.

But things weren't going well. Bills were piling up, and school employees weren't being paid on time. Teachers and administrators were starting to wonder about Wilkerson's much-touted skills. Rumors were flying about how Wilkerson had presided over the failures of other schools in other states and how he claimed to have had a heart attack at the height of another crisis.

This building, where Eastlake Christian School and Daycare operates, will be sold and the 20-year-old school moved in an effort to pay big debts, says Charles Wilkerson, school pastor.
Mark Graham
This building, where Eastlake Christian School and Daycare operates, will be sold and the 20-year-old school moved in an effort to pay big debts, says Charles Wilkerson, school pastor.
Charles Wilkerson said Louisiana Christian University would be a big financial boost for the little town of Sunset, Louisiana. He said he left no debts, but others said the school was more than $600,000 in the hole by the time he moved on.
Charles Wilkerson said Louisiana Christian University would be a big financial boost for the little town of Sunset, Louisiana. He said he left no debts, but others said the school was more than $600,000 in the hole by the time he moved on.
Shawn Barber

Wilkerson denies any truth to the "rumors and innuendo" and says any financial difficulties now and before were not his fault. Previously incurred debts and mismanagement were plaguing Eastlake, he says. On the day last spring that Wilkerson fell in the staircase, he was scheduled to appear before the school board to explain why things appeared to be going so badly.

"Payday was in two days," says a former employee who asked not to be identified. "It was the third payday in a row that we weren't going to get paid. People were very charitable the first time and kind of understanding the second time. The third time people were like, 'No, I need my money.' Everything was falling in on him, caving in on him that day."

With Wilkerson on the floor, teachers and students gathered around.

"His wife was standing beside him not even touching him, not even kneeling down to see if he was OK or anything. His son-in-law showed up," the ex-employee says. "He's walking down the stairs...slowly, casually, with his hands in his pockets."

A witness yelled for someone to call 911, but Wilkerson's wife didn't want that.

"His wife jerked her head around--'Don't call 911. No, he doesn't want you to.' This man is lying in the fetal position. Kristi [Kristin Newton, Wilkerson's daughter] comes out of her office and sees the whole thing, and she is cussing and screaming, 'Shit, dammit, I can't believe this. You people did this to him. You're putting too much damn pressure on him. Look what you've done to him.' She's doing all this in front of the students."

Despite the wife's admonition, someone called 911. But, when the paramedics arrived, there was no Charles Wilkerson.

"The crowd was still standing there. That's how fast he hauled butt up the stairs and went out the side door. The paramedics were standing there. I said, 'Where'd they go?' and his wife said, 'He went home.' I looked at the paramedics. They're looking at me like, 'He was having a heart attack?'...That was the real turning point for me. I was furious because I felt like he put me in a position to where I had to play along with the whole thing."

Wilkerson says he has a history of heart trouble and doesn't know why anyone would think he was faking that day.

"I just lost my breath. I told them not to call 911. I know what it is now. See, I went in and had some tests done here in Dallas and found out what was causing it," he says. "I had what they call bridging, and when I get under stress it causes sinus arrest...Your heart stops, slows down very low."

It was the third purported heart attack the 50-year-old Wilkerson had in the previous decade, according to newspaper stories printed in Wisconsin and Louisiana. The last episode of a serious health problem occurred at the height of a similar financial crisis in Wisconsin. At the time, Wilkerson's son Keith told the Wisconsin State Journal that his father had suffered a "massive" heart attack.

Wilkerson disagrees with that assessment. While he concedes he had "sinus arrest" three times before the incident at Eastlake, in Madison he accidentally overdosed on prescription medicine.

"They were treating me for high blood pressure, and I was suffering from massive depression, and I just overdosed on my medicine," he says. "I don't think it was on purpose, but I did, and I had heart trouble because of that."

As Eastlake teachers, students and members of Wilkerson's congregation began to doubt the authenticity of the heart attack, they also started to doubt any academic and financial miracles would be realized at their school. Promised improvements such as televisions in every classroom and paychecks that would arrive on time didn't happen, Eastlake's longtime and now former head administrator says.

And they wondered about Wilkerson and his family, a group of people who presented themselves at Eastlake as educators with excellent backgrounds in administration. Former staff members who tried to verify the family's educational credentials said it was impossible--mostly because the "credentials" are not recognized in the world of academia, at least not in any traditional sense. They hold bachelor's and master's degrees--Wilkerson has a doctorate--from obscure and unaccredited correspondence schools where you can earn a degree "without stepping on campus," Wilkerson says.

Before Eastlake, in places where a school was faltering or a town hungered for an economic boost, Wilkerson and family had similarly appeared with the same kind of promise of a brighter day. But those promises of renewed hope, which usually center around an educational institution, just never seem to work out for Wilkerson. After he decided to save the 142-year-old Madison Business College, and it abruptly closed amid a Wisconsin Justice Department investigation and questions about Wilkerson's administrative decisions, an acerbic Wisconsin State Journal editorial compared Wilkerson's résumé to Dr. Jack Kervorkian's patient list and said, "It takes a special talent to bring down a 142-year-old institution in a matter of months."

Since Wilkerson turned his attention to Dallas, the money-strapped but reportedly solvent little church and Christian school have been plagued with unprecedented financial, staff and morale problems. Many longtime staff and faculty left while financial difficulties and disagreements with Wilkerson mounted. Wilkerson pledges to keep the school running, but now he has a contract for the sale of the building to pay off bills, and he plans to move the school. Many of those familiar with the state of the school say they are convinced Wilkerson is bound for failure once again.

"I really like Charles Wilkerson. He's very charismatic. I bought into his idea of education. That's the one thing that kept me there," says Larry Wilson, Eastlake's former school administrator. "Now, I would not believe Charles Wilkerson if he told me hello."


Wilkerson is often described by those who meet him as impressive and Christ-like. Just like at Eastlake in the fall of 2000, Wilkerson had appeared in different places with grand visions and plenty of cash.

In 1993, when Wilkerson arrived in the small town of Sunset, Louisiana, town officials welcomed him, though Wilkerson's business dealings before Sunset were not entirely successful. In the 1980s, Wilkerson was accused of misleading his partners in a deal for a cable network that eventually went bankrupt. Wilkerson concedes the company went bankrupt but says, contrary to an extensive newspaper report, it turned out for the best.

"We went through the bankruptcy, and just about every one of the investors invested with me again, and we got started again," Wilkerson says. "If you read those articles, it talks about one guy that was unhappy with me."

The Minneapolis Star Tribune did not report it quite that way in 1982.

"The Rev. Charles Wilkerson came to the Twin Cities from North Dakota in March 1980 with a visionary plan for a Christian television network and a knack for persuading others to buy into it.

"By July 1980, the 31-year-old pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Bloomington had launched Christian Media Network (CMN), a cable television alternative for Christian viewers sick of the sex and violence on commercial networks and weary of the money-soliciting preachers common on other religious broadcasts.

"But 19 months later, CMN was bankrupt and Wilkerson was preparing to leave town," one part of the article said. It reported that investors were trying to recover $1.6 million.

When Wilkerson came to Sunset, he appeared to be well-equipped to head a big university expansion. But his degrees from Louisiana Christian University were dubious. Wilkerson reported in writing to the Louisiana Board of Regents in 1995 that he obtained those degrees from Louisiana Christian University in Lake Charles, an unaccredited private university that eventually made Wilkerson president. At the time, Louisiana was rife with paper colleges and universities, institutions run from post office boxes and offering mail-order degrees. Louisiana lawmakers have since tightened state oversight in an effort to halt those kinds of operations from calling themselves colleges and universities, says John Kay, assistant commissioner for research and data analysis for the Louisiana Board of Regents.

Wilkerson told the state that as president of Louisiana Christian University, he was moving his school to the economically depressed city of Sunset. A newspaper article printed at the time lavished praise on Wilkerson and talked about what a miraculous boost a university would bring. The Times of Acadiana reported that Wilkerson hoped to turn the city's deteriorating old high school into a school of high moral standards for Louisiana Christian University and its 400 students.

The city donated the high school property to the project, and Wilkerson offered his visions and talents as administrator.

Just five months later, the same newspaper, a weekly newsmagazine in Shreveport, reported that Wilkerson and members of his family who had worked at the university had left, leaving behind questions, frustrations and a pile of debt. Enrollment was not close to the 400 students Wilkerson promised. Wilkerson says he left to become the pastor of a church in nearby Church Point. The school subsequently went bankrupt and closed with nearly $600,000 in debt. Sunset sued the school to get back its high school property.

"When I left Sunset there were no bills left unpaid," Wilkerson says.

David Prell, who took over as interim president after Wilkerson left, does not agree with that statement or with Wilkerson's version of events concerning Louisiana Christian University at Sunset. Prell says Wilkerson exaggerated enrollment and left Louisiana Christian University when an application for accreditation that included verification of academic credentials by a recognized agency was being processed.

As for remaining debts, Prell says the school had $686,000 in unpaid debts when the Wilkersons departed.

At Church Point, Wilkerson opened Faith Baptist College at the church where he served as pastor. Wilkerson describes it as a "correspondence" college. It was never accredited or recognized by any state or mainstream educational association. He also opened Gulf Coast College at the church, which was supposed to offer classroom instruction.

In 1996, he moved Gulf Coast to Plaquemine, Louisiana. There, he had plans to house Korean students in a hotel that was bought by Golden Opportunity Development Corp. The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report identified Wilkerson as president of Golden Opportunity, and Wilkerson was quoted as saying, "We are going to bring everything up to a quality property."

Bobby Adams, business manager and son-in-law of the hotel's old owners, says of Wilkerson, "The man presented himself as a Baptist minister, and he was going to increase the size of his school in the hotel for Korean students. He was an extremely nice man, very personal, very fatherly figure."

Golden Opportunity paid $1.9 million for the hotel and transferred to the owners 75,000 shares of stock in an energy company. Adams identified Wilkerson as a "partner" in Golden Opportunity. Wilkerson says he may have helped negotiate the purchase of the hotel, but he denies any association with Golden Opportunity other than banking on the fact that they would remodel the property for his college.

"I didn't own it, didn't have anything to do with it," he says of Golden Opportunity and the hotel. "I said I need a place to put my Korean students. They [Golden Opportunity] were the ones that owned Golden Opportunity. I guess that was the name of it. I didn't even know what the name of it was."

According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, however, Charles Wilkerson resigned as president and director of Golden Opportunity Development Corp. in April 1998, which would have been after he left Plaquemine. Wilkerson says he may have been listed as a director for purposes of incorporation, but that's all.

Wilkerson says the hotel in Plaquemine did not work out for Gulf Coast College because Golden Opportunity failed to remodel the property as promised and because the college was too much work for him.

"They didn't fix up the hotel. It wasn't just that; I couldn't run it by myself," he says. "I mean, it was in Plaquemine, Louisiana, I was pastoring in Church Point, Louisiana...I had a sinus attack, sinus arrest. I was by myself working about 20 hours a day."

The hotel has changed hands again since then and will probably be demolished, Adams says.

Not long after arriving in Plaquemine, Wilkerson and the crew were on the move again, taking the handful of students from Gulf Coast to the legitimate and more than 40-year-old California Christian College in Fresno, where he was employed from July 1997 to April 1998 as a basketball coach.

"As I've told the people before, Gulf Coast merged with California Christian," Wilkerson says. "California Christian is still going strong."

A spokeswoman at California Christian College agrees Wilkerson worked there but says there was no "merger" and that they have no student records from Gulf Coast.

Wilkerson was on to Wisconsin next. Once again, things would go wrong, but this time the authorities would get involved.

In the spring of 1998, Wilkerson arrived in Madison to become chancellor of what was then Madison Business College, a school that had been operating since 1856. Wilkerson also transferred similar stock to the school's owners. Four months after he arrived, the school closed after an ambitious effort to move the school, turn it into a four-year college and create a new college football team nicknamed "The Storm."

While no one claims the school was in good financial condition when he arrived, the end came just after the Wisconsin State Journal reported that one of Wilkerson's corporations owned the hotel where the school's new football players were being housed. The newspaper also reported Wilkerson's school dealings in Louisiana and a Wisconsin Justice Department investigation into complaints of "undelivered promises regarding financial aid and scholarships" for players. Wilkerson says the hotel was never paid for the rooms, contrary to what college officials said, and that he was cleared of even any suggestion of wrongdoing. Wilkerson says the hotel was given back to its owners.

Madison College officials told the newspaper that Wilkerson held doctoral degrees from Faith Baptist Bible College (not Louisiana Christian as he reported to state officials three years before) and that his wife, Katherine, now held a master's degree from Faith Baptist College.

Investigations produced no charges, according to the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office, and Wilkerson blamed the media for the demise of the college. He says the primary reason the Wisconsin media latched onto him was because the school had a legal right to choose not to hire "teachers that had different lifestyles from what we wanted our teachers to have." (Wilkerson would not say what he means by "different lifestyles.") After the school closed, the newspapers never reported the fact that he was exonerated, he says.

"They made people think I must have taken money," Wilkerson says. "Well, when the audit was turned out they found out I donated cash to the school up there. I put in over $100,000 and never took a salary. That was never reported either, but it's in the audit."

Shortly after the allegations surfaced, Wilkerson suffered what his son described as a heart attack. Wilkerson was on his way to Texas for surgery.


Mike and Marsha Williams know that operating a private school is not easy. They founded Liberty Christian High in Northeast Dallas in 1996 for their two children and to provide another high school option for the Lake Highlands area. After four years, the school had about 110 students and about 20 teachers and staff. The Smithsonian Institute recognized the school for both its innovation and technology-based curriculum, Mike Williams says.

"The school was doing well. It was a technology-oriented school. We were pleased with the education the kids were getting. It was very positive. The problem was financial. We needed a supporting institution like a church or needed an elementary school to attach to it to spread administration to a larger base of students."

Liberty was operating in the red and had about $150,000 in bills. In addition to the value of the existing teacher structure and student body, it possessed assets of about $500,000, Williams says. Wilkerson had arrived in Dallas, purchased the church and school at Eastlake and posted school information on the Internet. From Eastlake's Web site, Liberty administrators saw that Wilkerson wanted to expand his school into the upper grade levels in the fall of 2000, Williams says.

It seemed like a good match and a good way to allow Liberty's students to stay together and keep their fledgling school alive, he says. Besides, when they met Wilkerson, he portrayed himself as having the kind of deep financial pockets that could support the ups and downs of a small private school's finances, Williams says.

"He did say to us that he had just made $17.5 million off the sale of hotels, a set of hotels that he owned," Williams says.

"He said he had paid $1.7 million for that building [Eastlake], paid cash. We were later to find out that he had not paid them cash; he had given them a promissory note and that he had pledged some stock." Wilkerson denies that he ever said he planned to pay for Eastlake with cash, but in the fall of 2000, he was counting on an influx of cash from the sale of hotels to a Dallas businessman. He said his children's company acquired seven hotels, which were sold to a Dallas businessman.

"He and his partners and all of his companies guaranteed me $1.6 million by September. He bought our hotels," Wilkerson says. "When I bought the church, I had a million six hundred thousand coming, and we had a million dollars in the bank, the whole family did."

Williams says before they agreed to a deal, they told Wilkerson how much Liberty's books were in arrears and that Wilkerson seemed undaunted.

"Our deal with him was we bring our bills, and you've got $150,000 to pay off, and we're handing you over a half-million dollars' worth of equipment that you would have had to buy on your own," he says. "We felt like it was a win-win deal. He got a lot of stuff way below, less than a third of what it would have cost him to buy it otherwise. He got a ready-made school, fully accredited with a Smithsonian Award for technology, all kinds of things that he can hype to draw in students."

In the fall of 2000, Liberty became a part of Eastlake and turned over its accounting. None of the Liberty founders received money in the deal. Wilkerson balked at putting anything in writing despite numerous attempts to get him to do so, Williams says. Williams and his wife maintained an interest in the school, and Mike Williams served on the board, but for all practical purposes, Eastlake and Liberty became one and the same, housed in Eastlake's building and sharing Eastlake's administrative and other resources.

"By late fall, getting into December...we were getting overdue bills that hadn't been paid," he says. "When the bills weren't getting paid, we finally became aware that something wasn't right. He started pressing us for donations to pay bills. That's when we really got suspicious. He's sitting here supposedly with this multimillions of dollars and he's basically whining at us that he can't pay bills, the school and the church can't pay its bills."

In February, Wilkerson told Williams and the other former Liberty administrators that he would not be paying Liberty's bills after all, Williams says.

"He told us very clearly he didn't have any intention of paying those back bills, that we had to go pay them," he says. "So at that point he had completely reneged on his commitment. In essence, he had the intention of taking the assets, taking the students, taking the teachers, taking the tuition, taking everything that we brought over and not paying the bills that he had committed to pay."

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.

So Wilkerson came along and said he would buy the building for $1.6 million. Not only did he agree to keep the school, but he promised to maintain Christian values and vastly improve the property, adding amenities such as televisions in every classroom, Wilson says.

"He comes in with that aura, 'I'm a Baptist minister,' and all this other stuff, and he just really oversells himself. He really wows people," Wilson says.

Wilkerson's daughter Kristin "Kristi" Newton was installed as chancellor (and later as administrator) and his wife as bookkeeper and other family members in key school positions. Newton is shown on the school's Web site to have received a bachelor's degree from Faith Baptist College in 1993 at the age of 20. Wilkerson's son Keith claims to have earned a bachelor of arts from Louisiana Christian and bachelor's and master's degrees from Faith Baptist. The degrees are supposedly in education and business administration.

Wilkerson agreed to take on Liberty High School and started a sports program that would include basketball and football teams. He said the new nickname for the team would be "The Storm," just like in Wisconsin. Financial problems began to arise almost immediately, Wilson says.

Wilson says he didn't understand where the tuition money was going and why payroll was too costly so early in the year. He questioned Wilkerson about it, but Wilkerson just said there were too many bills, Wilson says.

The school limped through the 2000-2001 school year, but teachers were starting to leave, and students were, too. At the end of the year, it became apparent that the brief Liberty/Eastlake partnership was going to be dissolved and that most of the high school students who filled Eastlake's halls would be gone by the next year. School board members were leaving and being replaced regularly.

This year, on September 19, with most high school students gone, Wilkerson sent the faculty and staff a letter that said the paychecks that were due the next day would not be delivered until the 25th. Teachers were frequently quitting or getting fired. Tempers flared at school board meetings, and only about half of the more than 300 students in elementary and high school remained.

"We missed the payroll on October 1, the first week in October. He wanted to blame it on the teachers," Wilson says. "The problem is that we have this high school; we have a bunch of football players that are not paying tuition. We've had to hire teachers and support staff for them. He said, 'That's not our problem. I already paid their tuition for a whole year.'"

Wilkerson says his family donated $450,000 in cash to bring in students that did not have money for private school. "Not just basketball players. I didn't know that they played basketball, but I gave. All this money that we've given was to bring in students that couldn't afford to go to private school," he says. "If you've got an empty seat, it doesn't cost anything to bring a student in." By mid-October Wilkerson had apparently tired of Wilson and asked for his resignation. Wilson says he was happy to leave the mess behind.

"It was a big relief to me," Wilson says. "It didn't matter, though. I wasn't getting paid. I still haven't gotten my last paycheck."


Charles Wilkerson says today that he has no part of school operations at Eastlake. Although he is aware of the school's financial problems, he also seems to be distancing himself. He says he is pastor of Eastlake Baptist Church and that the church and school are being set up as a nonprofit corporation that will own the church and school building.

"You'd have to talk to the people who run the school. It's not my school. It's a separate corporation," he says. "Why don't you talk to the school? I don't run the school. I've never run the school...I'm the pastor of the church that sponsors the school."

Bill collectors are reportedly hounding the school for money with secretaries being told to "take messages" rather than put calls through to administrators. Utility workers came to shut off the water recently because the bill hadn't been paid. They left the water on after learning children were in the building, a former employee says.

The school owes for all sorts of bills, from teachers' salaries and leased equipment to school credit accounts, several sources say. Wilkerson says the books are looking better and that once the building is sold, they will have about $500,000 to get the books balanced.

On Friday, another teacher and employee left Eastlake, and fewer than a dozen of the original 47 faculty and staff who had started the 2000-2001 school year remain. The employee had asked in writing for her overdue paycheck and was fired for "insubordination and an un-Christian-like attitude."

Wilkerson says he doesn't know anything about the firing and reiterates that his role in the school is limited.

"Again, I don't run the school. I haven't been involved in that," he says. "I don't have a vote on the school board. I have a voice." While the school may be in choppy financial waters, and it must move to an undetermined location at the end of the year, no part of Eastlake school is nearing closure, he says.

"The school is not going to fail. The school is about to pull itself out," he says. "It's not in great health, but we'll make it. We know how we're going to pay the bills."

Despite what he describes at times as his limited role, Wilkerson says he accepts blame for the school's problems today.

"We've had a rough time. I take full blame for here. I mean Eastlake is mine. I mean I have messed up royal. I'm the one that told everybody to let Liberty come," he says. "Eastlake would have been closed if I didn't come in and keep it open."

His only failing at Eastlake and at other places, he says, has been that he tried to help the underdog and his heart got in the way of smart business. He's done all he can for everyone at Eastlake, and despite huge obstacles, he would do it again. He says he's been nothing but a help to the school and gained nothing financially, and now he's been blamed for the problems that Liberty caused him.

"See, I was a hero as long as I had money. When it ran out, then everyone was unhappy," he says. "I just tried to help a school that was here. And I'm still doing everything I can to help the school."

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