By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Last week the Dallas Observer printed an article about Charles Wilkerson, an itinerant minister who seems to have a knack for buying struggling private schools and closing them down. The article reported that those he left behind with piles of debts dispute Wilkerson's versions of how school closures came about in Louisiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It also said that Wilkerson and members of his family who work at the schools possess degrees from unaccredited and unrecognized correspondence schools where getting a degree is apparently as simple as filling out the paperwork from home.
During the past year or so, Wilkerson has been working his magic at the 20-year-old Eastlake Christian School and Daycare in Dallas. As in other places where Wilkerson appeared, the bills at Eastlake seemed to be piling up, and teachers who hadn't quit were not getting paid on time. Staff writer Charles Siderius reported that Wilkerson said he planned to move the school and had a contract for the sale of the Eastlake school building.
It turns out that the school administrators had asked parents of the 100 or so students who remain at Eastlake to cough up $500 per family before the end of the year for "capital improvements." After the article came out, the school sent home notes with children saying that the school required the money sooner than they had said, in fact, before the holiday break. One parent said that (besides the other revelations about Wilkerson in the article) as soon as she and other parents saw that administrators wanted $500 for improvements to a building that was being sold out from under them they were furious. Neither Wilkerson nor anyone at the school will get their money now. "Not a dime," she said. She is also looking for someplace else to send her son, who attended Eastlake for five years.
As for Wilkerson, reports are that he has not appeared at the school since the article was posted on the Observer's Web site last week and this week is "out."