Alex Hodge

Alex Hodge

Sheriff upping security rate for school functions; Board member: Request ‘way out of line’

Jones County Schools will be hit with a 25 percent increase on security details provided by the Jones County Sheriff’s Department, according to a letter Sheriff Alex Hodge sent to school officials this week.

The rate is going up from $25 per hour take-home pay for deputies to $40 an hour. That would result in an increase of almost $20,000 — from 78,840 in Fiscal Year 2019 to $98,550 in Fiscal Year 2020 — for the same number of hours.

“That shocked a lot of people,” school board member Ronnie Herrington said. “It was not well-received. If the sheriff wants to supplement his budget, he needs to get it from somewhere other than the school district.”

The biggest expense is the deputies’ security coverage of football games, which typically requires four to 10 deputies, depending on the anticipated crowd, Superintendent Tommy Parker said. They also provide security for other sporting and school events and at the alternative school. Every school has to turn in a security plan that has to be approved by the Mississippi High School Activities Association, and the schools are required to provide that number of officers at each event, Parker said.

“We’re going to have to take a hard look at our security plans,” Parker said. “We’re going to make sure we hire what we need, but we’re going to make sure we need what we hire.”

The reason for the increase, Hodge wrote, has to do with an Attorney General’s opinion stating that deputies who are in uniform and in their county cars must be paid time-and-a-half even if they’re working outside of their capacity as a deputy. He wrote that the new charge would be $40 an hour with a three-hour minimum.

“This is way out of line,” Herrington said.

The Leader-Call contacted AG spokeswoman Mary Margaret Morgan for a copy of the opinion, and she forwarded a recent one that has to do with the use of equipment on private details, but there was no mention of overtime pay.

Parker said that other area districts his school officials checked with, including Lamar County, were paying $20 to $25 an hour. Parker said that the Jones County district had already bumped up pay for deputies to $32.50 an hour — to cover the cost of their benefits — so their take-home pay would be $25 an hour.

Parker said that he and the school board were considering whether to hire certified officers from other agencies, such as the Ellisville, Soso, Sandersville and Jones College police departments, conservation officers and constables to cover the games for $25 an hour. 

Officers at other departments have not been deputized by Hodge, as past sheriffs have done, so he has warned Parker that could be a liability for the county. Parker said he and the board also have to consider the “deterrent” that actual law enforcement officers in uniform and patrol vehicles would provide instead of someone in a security outfit and personal vehicle. School Resource Officers also fill in at neighboring schools when their school is playing a road game, Parker said.

“We’ve got to make a decision,” he said. “It’s going to be a financial burden.”

It’s less than two weeks until the first local football game. 

“He said that we could remain at the current rate, but the deputies could not carry their patrol car to the events and would have to sign something stating that they were not being forced to work extra,” Parker said.

There are two weeks to “work on details” before activities begin, he added.

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