MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- With the start of the school year less than a week away, Mesa Public Schools is down around 50 bus drivers.

"We're desperate," said Mesa Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Shaun Holmes.

According to the district, a good economy and a strong job market are partly to blame. Also, a rise in the state minimum wage is making their compensation less competitive.

So Mesa Public Schools, which is the state's largest K-12 district, is making do with the drivers it has.

[WATCH: "We're desperate."]

Start and end times had to be changed at almost all pf the schools in the district to accommodate the bus driver shortage.

Some drivers are also doing double duty, working two routes at the same school.

"So they'll do one route after school, for example, and they'll take one group of kids home, but then they'll come back and pick up another group of kids and take them home from school," Holmes said. "So, the challenge obviously there is you've got kids that (sic) are ready to go when school gets out and some of them have to stick around and wait for the bus to come back."

Holmes says there's a shortage of drivers Valleywide, so the competition is fierce among school districts. He says Mesa is trying to sweeten the deal by offering CDL (commercial driver's license) training for new drivers. Mesa Public Schools also might raise wages for bus drivers for the second year in a row.

Although it's an inconvenience for some, Holmes says people have so far been understanding.

"Our parents have been very supportive in our community. This is a community that's been highly supportive of education," Holmes said.

Meanwhile, drivers say they're encouraging people to apply.

"Always nice to have a little bit more income to supplement my retirement," said Keith Johnson, who has driven for the district for about five years. "I enjoy working with the kids.

Johnson says he'll still enjoy the job helping students, even if he has to pick up the slack in the coming school year.

"I recognize it as an important responsibility," Johnson said. "I realize that I'm part of their day and that I help make their day better or worse, and I always want to make their day better."

 


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