There is an offer of up to $7,000 to jump onboard behind the wheel of a school bus in South Windsor.
The start of the school year has been filled with sometimes crowded and long bus rides.
“It does take a while. I mean when we get there the bus isn’t always on time,” April Insco, a tenth grader, said.
“We’ve been working really hard to get our driver numbers back up across the state,” said Bryony Chamberlain, DATTCO's vice president of school bus.
Chamberlain said DATTCO is offering different incentives with 70 openings statewide.
At a special South Windsor school board meeting last week, staff explained the lack of drivers meant the normal 33 routes had been consolidated into 25.
“We really are trying to do everything possible and we're stretched very thin,” said Dr. Kate Carter, superintendent of South Windsor Public Schools.
Bus companies have blamed the shortage on several factors, including retirements and people who were laid off during Covid-19 and didn’t come back.
Recently there have been positive steps.
DATTCO said there’s been some uptick in applications since the end of the extra unemployment benefits and the hiring process has sped up.
“It used to take us 16 weeks to get a background check for a driver back through the DMV. There’s been a lot work between ourselves and the different school districts. That’s now down to two weeks. That’s a real improvement for us,” said Chamberlain.
But there’s still up to two months of training. So DATTCO is warning it could be a year before things return to normal and there still could be challenging days ahead.
“I don’t want to sound like an alarmist but the time to brace ourselves is right now. We’re really at that point,” said Carter.
School leaders say they are exploring all options, but they really think state action is needed including to quicken the hiring process.