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 Getting to Know SDCOE: Under the Hood in the Garage

The San Diego County Office of Education serves students. Employees may not see them or hear them daily, but the children of San Diego County are at the core of everything SDCOE employees do.

That calling is crystal clear to the men charged with managing the County Office's fleet of nearly 130 vehicles.

Tim Lancaster, Keith Hildreth, and Guy Lopez have been working together in the garage at the SDCOE main campus for close to 20 years. Together with student worker Vince Villarreal, they maintain a fleet of vehicles, which includes golf carts, school buses, box trucks, sedans, vans, and hybrid vehicles. They also ensure SDCOE's hazardous materials and the 6,000-gallon unleaded gasoline storage tank on campus meet state standards and regulations

And while their days are focused on the garage and the fleet, none of the men need a manual to connect their work with SDCOE's mission.

"The best part of my job is being able to help our colleagues who serve the county's children by providing roadworthy vehicles," Lopez said.

Lancaster, fleet services supervisor, began with SDCOE as an auto service worker in 1987. He is a self-taught painter and sculptor whose office boasts a collection of bird feathers he's found on campus walks or received from colleagues. In addition to pulling on gloves and going under the hood when needed, Lancaster also manages the compliance issues and inspections, and reviews the specs of any new vehicle purchased by SDCOE. 

"There's a certain amount of satisfaction in getting the people who help our students to their destination safely," he said. "It's not about liability. It's because we care for our people."

Hildreth, a mechanic III, has been with the County Office for nearly 21 years. He is also a school board member for Lakeside Union School District.

"Having a fleet is so important," Hildreth said. "It allows our staff with HOPE Infant or special education to use our vehicles to assist districts. It also means students who have never left the city can see the wilderness and wild animals at Cuyamaca Outdoor School, because we have buses."

Lopez, a mechanic II, is a retired U.S. Navy chief who served as a jet engine mechanic for 22 years. He joined SDCOE in 1997 and oversees the vehicle reservations, mileage reports, and service records.

With the wide variety of work, the three men have to stay on their toes.

Vehicles have changed quite a bit in 30 years, with upgrades in technology and hybrid cars necessitating new skills.

Teamwork is how the men say they've been able make the garage run like a well-oiled machine. That, and decades of friendship and comradery, built on the knowledge that their work helps drive SDCOE's mission.