Reverend Fix-It

Page 7 of 8

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."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Charles Siderius
Contact: Charles Siderius