If your children attend Sahuarita Unified School District, there's a chance their school bus is being driven by a mail courier or a mechanic.
The school district started the school year last week with 11 vacant driver positions, said Mike Fiesler, transportation director.
As a result, everyone is pitching in to help drive the buses – mechanics, transportation coordinators and even mail couriers are joining out the 37 regular bus drivers who shuttle 3,400 students on 67 routes. Fiesler has taken the wheel, too. He said everyone working in his department has a commercial driver's license.
SUSD students aren’t feeling the consequences of the open positions, but Fiesler often has to ask his employees to stop what they’re doing to take on a route. They're also working overtime.
Last year, the district saw 10 bus drivers leave during the school year. A year earlier, the district saw 18 leave, SUSD spokesmwoman Amber Woods said.
Pinning down reasons for the departures is difficult, but retirement is one, Fiesler said.
Although the job is great for people who don't want to work eight hours a day, it's still a tough position to fill, he said.
“The biggest issue or concern is the position is only 10 months out of the year, so that makes it difficult on some people,” he said. “A lot of times during the summer time they may go look and see and end up finding a position that is now 12 months out of the year.”
Fiesler is in a catch-22. Since he has to get behind the wheel at times, he's not able to devote as much time as he'd like to filling his open positions, which includes arranging for reference checks.
“We’re really encouraging each other to stay positive," he said. "If someone else has a project they gotta get done, we all kind of jump on it and help each other to get that done, especially when there’s a timeline, so we do a lot of bouncing around to help each other fill in."
Steven Lathen, director of student services and transportation for Continental Elementary School District, said the school has enough bus drivers to meet its needs.