CHESAPEAKE, VA - Public schools are not only facing a staff shortage within the school buildings, but school bus drivers are also harder to find.
Many say it's a problem that existed before COVID-19 but has only gotten worse.
Like many school districts across the country, Chesapeake is getting creative in trying to fill the driver gap, including recruiting teachers to transport students before and after class.
"And not just teachers but any school system employee, be it a teacher, a custodian, security monitor, a teacher assistant," Dr. David Benson, Director of Transportation for Chesapeake Public Schools, told CBN News.
Benson said he normally employs 477 full time school bus drivers but now faces an unprecedented 131 vacancies.
"Every time a single driver is out it could impact as many as 150 kids in the morning and 150 kids in the afternoon," he explained.
While shortages happen from time to time, this lack of drivers has increased substantially since the start of the pandemic.
According to the HopSkipDrive school ride service survey, about 81 percent of school districts nationwide have trouble finding bus drivers.
Benson said the shortages affect multiple areas including students, drivers, and parents.
"The drivers that we have complete their route and then they have to double back and get another group of kids," he explained. "They're getting to school late and it's because of the time that it takes to do double runs."
Reasons for the lack of bus drivers include the need for better pay and concerns surrounding COVID-19. Many public school bus drivers are over 65 with pre-existing conditions which places them at greater risk for the virus.
Given that fact, many school districts are offering better salary and benefits along with other incentives.
"We currently have a $250 signing bonus for employees that come in," said Benson. "If you have a CDL we have a $500 signing bonus. We continue to offer benefits for employees only working an average of 25 hours are getting full-time benefits which is kind of unheard of in the public sector."
So far, no teachers have accepted the offer from Chesapeake to get in the driver's seat, but Benson remains hopeful other applicants will soon come aboard.