“It is a big problem,” he added. “Some had to find other jobs and some retired. Now, 18, 19 months later, schools are coming back” and the drivers “are not there.”
Districts are trying to make the job of driving a school bus more attractive, offering signing bonuses and organizing recruiting events to entice new drivers. First Student, a school bus transportation contractor, offered $4,000 to new drivers in Helena, Mont. The company also staged recruiting events that it called “Big Bus, No Big Deal,” during which people were invited to test-drive the massive yellow buses, without dozens of children on board.
“Once you get up and get in the seat where you sit up high, we have the trainers that are going to ride with them and show them that it’s not hard to drive a school bus — it’s actually pretty easy,” Dan Redford, a First Student safety manager, told KTVH-TV of Helena last month. The job has been popular with retirees who want to supplement their income and do not mind working split shifts, he said.
Eastside Charter School, a grade school in Wilmington, Del., is paying families $700 for each child they drive to and from school. So far, parents of about 180 students have taken advantage of the incentive, and the number is expected to rise to 250, said Aaron Bass, the school’s chief executive officer. As many as 480 Eastside students need transportation, but the school has only half the bus drivers it needs, he said.
“We are looking at this as a time to be innovative,” Mr. Bass said. “Find innovation in the midst of chaos and crisis.”
In Georgia, the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, which is 114 drivers short, has cut bus routes and prioritized busing for students who attend its schools, leaving families with children in alternative and charter schools to find their own way.
The district is offering $4,000 to new and returning drivers, along with guarantees for more work hours. Savannah is home to one of the nation’s busiest seaports, so the district has always had tough competition for drivers with commercial licenses, said Paul Abbott, the executive director of transportation.