Houston County School board is on the hook for $6,253 in student lunch debt — another consequence of the July 25 malware attack on system servers.
Lunchroom workers had to accept all payments and account for meals manually during the first month and a half of school due to a malware attack that temporarily downed servers. The attack caused the shutdown of lunch payment software that was used to accept payments online and at school and tracks all meals.
“That resulted in several students coming through the line without money to pay, unfortunately,” Houston County Schools Chief Financial Officer Kerry Bedsole said. “They were not going to be told they had to throw their plate away. We accounted for the meals, but we did not receive the funds for that.”
The Houston County School board will have to cover the cost of over 2,500 meals from August from its General Fund. It must also cover the deficit from the first half of September, when those numbers come in.
Child Nutrition Program Director Marie Payne said the United State Department of Agriculture will not allow the Child Nutrition Program to have a negative balance.
“With some, could we go back and identify all of them accurately and bill them for those meals? No,” she said. “We put forth our best effort in order to document and tally those meals that we could so we could at least do proper counting so we could claim those meals to be reimbursed, but unfortunately we fell short in that area…”
Bedsole noted that some of the loss may be due to human error.
“The cashier could’ve marked someone more than one time,” she said. “It was just a lot of manual entry; manual handwriting going into accounting for these meals so there’s just a lot of room for error, unfortunately, when you don’t have computers to account for it.”
The lunch debt is just one of the bills the school board might have to foot this month to cover costs associated with the hack on system servers that delayed the start of school 10 days.
The board also discussed a quote for a camera system for the bus barn in the amount of $4,820 with CCS Technology Center. The cameras were disabled after the malware attack, but Superintendent David Sewell said the cameras were old to begin with and not user-friendly.
The system is considering steps to better secure information. Technology Director Bob Blalock recommended moving its backup server, currently stored at Webb Elementary School, to Clearwinds’ remote location in Birmingham for $970 per month, and an additional one-time charge of $1,500 to physically transport the server.
Blalock said the co-location would help secure the district’s backup files in case of severe weather that could affect Webb’s and the other servers located in its central office in Dothan. Clearwinds would also take over the maintenance of the servers.
Board members are also considering a subscription with ControlAltProtect to protect against future criminal attacks. The service would cost the board over roughly $322,200 over the course of two years.
“It’s a very expensive service wherever you go,” Blalock said. “We’ve got to do something because the possibility of entities being hit a second time once they were hit like we were is very likely.”
Blalock said the school system last month has already spent roughly $75,000 on overtime labor, contracted help, and new equipment. Blalock will be adding the lunch debt to a list of line items to send to the system’s insurance company to see if those costs may be reimbursed.
After the work session, the board held an executive session to discuss cyber security.