All schools in Morgan County system to have SROs this year
By Erica Smith
For the Enquirer
All 17 Morgan County Schools campuses will have a school resource officer when classes begin next week, a first for the system.
The increase in coverage is in part a result of an $8 per hour raise for retired law enforcement officers serving as SROs, a raise made possible by a law enacted by the Alabama Legislature this year increasing the amount the retired officers can receive while drawing retirement pay. Decatur City Schools also raised the pay for retired officers serving as SROs.
“We will, this year, have every campus covered,” Morgan County Schools Superintendent Tracie Turrentine said. “This will be the first year we’ve ever had that. We have 17 campuses and they all will be covered this year.”
Retired law enforcement SROs at Morgan County Schools previously made $24 per hour but beginning this school year will make $32 per hour. Turrentine said the recent legislation increasing the threshold of what a retired SRO could make while receiving retirement income made that possible.
Previously the cap on SRO income for retired law enforcement was about $37,000 annually. Now it is $52,000.
Mike Swafford, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said the increased SRO pay was a direct result of the new law.
“The pay increase came about to keep up with what the state retirement system allows a retired individual to earn,” he said.
Ray Long, Morgan County Commission chairman, said the previous cap on how much retired law enforcement could earn while drawing retirement pay was problematic.
“When you’re in the state retirement you can only draw so much a year if you’re working for another government agency,” he said. “The legislators upped the amount of how much they could make. That’s why the school system and the sheriff are wanting to raise their pay.”
Dwight Satterfield, Decatur City Schools deputy superintendent of operations and safety, said DCS only has one retired-duty SRO, and that SRO is beginning his second year with the district. He said the officer’s income will soon be raised due to the legislative change.
“I’ll pass through the maximum amount, $52,000,” Satterfield said.
The Sheriff’s Office pays for the active-duty SROs, Long said, while the school system pays for the retired-duty SROs.
“What we do is we put them on our payroll, and they submit time just like they’re a county worker; we pay their salary,” he said. “The school reimburses the sheriff, and he reimburses (the commission) out of his discretionary fund.”
Satterfield declined to say how many SROs Decatur City Schools has.
“We don’t really publicize that because it’s a security-type thing,” he said.
Turrentine said Morgan County Schools has three new SROs this year, two active duty and one retired.
“But we pretty much maintained all of our SROs from last year,” she said. “Eleven are retired; all the other ones are active.”
At last week’s Morgan County Commission meeting, the commission approved increasing the pay for nine part-time retired-duty SROs to $32 per hour. Turrentine said only nine of their retired-duty SROs come from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office.
“We have partnerships with not only Morgan County (Sheriff’s Office) but Trinity Police Department and Priceville Police Department,” she said.
Swafford said Trinity PD covers West Morgan schools and Priceville PD covers Priceville High School. Swafford said retired SROs have been hard to recruit.
“It is hard to find retired law enforcement since it is a small group and not all want to return to work. Additionally, SROs are carefully selected and specifically trained for the role,” he said. “We would assume a higher pay rate would help attract additional retired law enforcement into the SRO role.”
Long agreed it is difficult to get retired SRO employees.
“It sounds like people would be waiting in line to do it,” he said. “But no, it’s a struggle to get people to do it.”
All retired Morgan County deputies serving as SROs are part time, Long said.
“They get no benefits; they’re like seasonal workers,” he said. “They’re wanting to pay them more so they can keep them.”
Turrentine said the presence of SROs at the schools is important.
“Their presence is seen throughout, not only by the students, but the community,” she said. “The car parked outside means a lot, just to deter bad people from coming into our schools.”
Turrentine said retired SROs work eight-hour days for 187 days a year. Swafford said the active-duty SROs are paid based on their Sheriff’s Office salary scale.