Audio recordings from former Limestone County Superintendent: “it didn’t pass the smell test”

Updated: Mar. 4, 2021 at 6:46 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Not guilty! That’s the plea from six people accused of stealing your tax dollars in Limestone County and around the state.

In Thursday arraignment hearing, attorneys for former Limestone County Schools Superintendent Tom Sisk, former Athens City Schools Superintendent Trey Holladay, his wife retired Athens City School teacher Deborah Holladay, current Executive Director of Planning for Athens City Schools Rick Carter and two longtime friends of the Holladays also waived their rights to a speedy trial.

48 News was given audio recordings from a 2019 meeting between FBI agents and one of those defendants.

In the recording you will hear Tom Sisk, the former Limestone County Schools superintendent, being questioned about the virtual schools and how the students were accounted for.

A week later Sisk turned in his notice and started a new job in Tennessee; a job he later lost.

Our Kate Smith has this story you’ll see only on 48 News.

“It didn’t pass the smell test. So, I went to my legal counsel and we determined this was not something we really want to pursue very far.” That’s Tom Sisk in 2019, telling federal investigators he has no idea of any wrongdoing by Limestone County Schools.

FBI and U.S. Department of Education investigators showed up unannounced to the school to question Sisk about district’s virtual academy. Someone else in the meeting recorded the audio and gave it to us.

“I want to say they were claiming they had kids who were disenrolled from a private school and enrolled with us.”

Sisk is referring to a contractual agreement for Limestone County’s virtual school with the company Educational Opportunities and Management, better known as EdOp, from June 2016 until March 2017.

Last week, Ed-Op was recently named in a federal indictment. In the indictment the company’s owner Greg Corkren, Tom Sisk, the former Athens City Schools Superintendent Trey Holladay, and three other state educators are accused of bribing private schools with money and new laptops.

In exchange, the charges said they received money for their own personal gain.

“My understanding was that they were going to provide a blended learning opportunity for students across the state and we could partner with them to do that.” Sisk told investigators he thought Holladay showed success in running Athens Renaissance School and was looking to collaborate. “I asked the superintendent who was he using to provide that. He introduced me to a provider”

The FBI agent asked “Who was the external contractor?”

“EdOp. The man’s name is Mr. Greg Corkren.” Investigators question Sisk about a letter they obtained that was sent out to parents of students at Sumter Academy, a now-closed private school in Livingston, Alabama.

The school was on the brink of closing when school staff informed parents of a “partnership with Limestone County…” and students would become “dually enrolled.”

Sisk said he wasn’t aware of the letter.

We found that letter still posted online. It says participating in the virtual program with Limestone County Schools is not mandatory but says if students don’t sign up, they will not have access to a school laptop. “I am sorry I can’t help you, I don’t know much about it. This makes me mad. It validates why we did what we did. We started asking questions because obviously you can’t be paid twice.”

The meeting wraps up with Sisk joking with investigators that they have made him question what is going on with his county’s virtual school Alabama Connections Academy. “How do we verify Connections is doing it? How do we do that. Because now you have me asking questions I haven’t asked.”

We reached out to Sisk’s attorney. We were told it is “too premature to comment on this case or these recordings.”

A trial is scheduled for September.

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