For many parents sending children back to school in just a few weeks, questions about masks, vaccines, and COVID-19 remain. Another question has to do with transportation to and from school each day.
As in years past, there is an effort to recruit school bus drivers to fill many vacant positions across the state. This year, the process has been especially difficult.
NBC Connecticut spoke with representatives from DATTCO, which provides bus transportation to many school districts across Connecticut. Last month, the company had more than 100 school bus driver positions open in the state. Now, they've filled some positions but dozens of drivers are still needed.
When the pandemic first forced the shutdown of schools, DATTCO said a couple hundred of its employees left their jobs. With the current job market, the company is having to work even harder to recruit former and new employees.
DATTCO and other school bus companies, such as First Student, have dozens of openings for Connecticut school bus drivers listed on their websites. Those job listings highlight some new incentives for prospective employees.
A First Student listing for a bus driver position in New Haven showed a $3,000 signing bonus for drivers with special licensing required for the job.
DATTCO is also offering sign-on bonuses, including a $3,000 incentive for qualified school bus drivers in Middletown.
"We have had a lot of success but there's still more to go,” said Bryony Chamberlain, Vice President of School Bus at DATTCO. "As we work with schools toward start of school, we find there are additional trips we weren't aware of. Our requirements are changing all the time.”
“We have some areas where we struggle to recruit a bit more. For those areas -- the towns where we can recruit well -- we over-recruit in those areas and then we can move work around,” said Chamberlain. “While we're having success, we still need more people to come and work with us,” she said.
“In Connecticut, I could do with a good 50 or so drivers,” Chamberlain said. “If people want to apply, just go to our website or come and see us.”
Chamberlain said parents can help in making this process more smooth.
“If you're signed up for a school bus trip and you don't need it because your child is old enough to be driving themselves in or you're going to be driving your child in every day, then please help us use our resources more efficiently,” said Chamberlain. “Let the school know they don't need that seat and we'll give that to another child who desperately needs it.”
Chamberlain said the company likely has enough time to fill the majority of open bus driver positions before the school year starts. She said there are many other positions available as well, such as mechanics and bus monitors.