Pinal County School Office payroll hacked


Payday for 4,514 people — half of everyone who works for public schools in Pinal County — was disrupted after a cyber attack on the Pinal County School Office.

This cyber hostage event of a government entity emphasizes why SaddleBrooke HOA1 has wisely invested heavily in safeguarding its systems.

Pinal School Office and Pinal Treasurer’s Office staff found a plan Friday morning to pay employees by check. The School Office opted not to make electronic transfers or direct deposits “in an abundance of caution,” according to a letter to employees. Checks for Pinal’s largest public school districts, Maricopa and Florence Unified, were being printed first, and employees were receiving instructions on how to pick up their checks.

Other affected districts were Apache Junction, Casa Grande Union High, Combs, Coolidge, Mary C. O’Brien, Oracle, Picacho, Sacaton, Santa Cruz Valley Union High, Stanfield, Superior and Toltec.

“We have 1,200 employees and hopefully our staff gets a live check tomorrow,” Florence Superintendent Chris Knutsen commented by email late Thursday.

Districts that processed their payrolls before last weekend were unaffected, Pinal County spokesman James Daniels said. He noted the School Office’s computer system is separate from Pinal County government’s information technology system.

The School Office conveys its information to the Pinal County Treasurer’s Office, which issues the checks.

Pinal School Superintendent Jill Broussard said in her letter Thursday the office’s data processing consortium had experienced a ransomware attack over the weekend.

Casa Grande Union High School District food service was preparing to fill food bags if checks were not issued. “Please communicate with your principal or supervisor if you need food bags for your family,” Superintendent Jeff Lavender said in a letter to employees.

He continued, “We will also prepare a letter for you to share with your bank and creditors explaining any late payments are not your fault and ask them to extend you some grace.”

“At this point, it does not appear that sensitive data has been compromised and most of the system has been restored,” Broussard’s letter said.

Lavender told PinalCentral that his district was made aware of the problem by Pinal County officials on Tuesday and was advised the issue was affecting 21 school districts throughout the county. Lavender added he had been in constant contact with county officials regarding the issue.

“We were told on Tuesday that we would not be able to get live checks but they (the county) were confident the situation would be fixed and when it wasn’t fixed yesterday, I realized I needed to alert employees so they could make plans,” he said. “I know the county has been working very hard to fix this situation. We were all confident that it could be fixed but it just came to the point yesterday where I couldn’t spring it on people today.”

Lavender said the problem could not have come at a worse time with district employees  on fall break, and that he and his staff had been working hard to ensure that all staff would not experience undue hardship by implementing a number of temporary measures to assist those in need.

“Broussard’s letter said it appeared sensitive data had not been compromised by the attack.

Lavender was full of praise for his staff who came to work on Friday morning and have been extremely professional.

“Our staff has been wonderfully understanding, they are professionals,” Lavender said. “Even though they’re not getting a regular check today, they’re in our classrooms working and doing what they need to do to support the kids and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”


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