ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — In about a month and a half, students will return to Rockford classrooms to start the school year. Many of those children will rely on school buses to get there, but the Rockford School District is having trouble finding drivers.

School bus driver shortages have been impacting several local school districts, but Rockford Public Schools is doing something it’s never done before: adding incentives to attract new drivers.

Gary Williams said he walked into the transportation department seeking a new opportunity.

“I had an interview earlier for a position here,” he said. “I was interested, because I currently I drive big vehicles at FedEx Ground. I’m trying to get my CDL to actually drive trucks.”

Michael Slife, the executive transportation director for RPS 205, says there’s always been a shortage in qualified bus drivers, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse.

“It’s all the districts all the contractors around everyone has a driver shortage,” he said. “First and necessary, when you’re 50 drivers short and not sure where you’re going to get them, [it’s] drastic times.”

With pay starting at $15.30 an hour, Slife says, for the first time ever, new drivers are being offered a signing bonus.

“So, we’re offering two different incentives,” he explained. “They’re both sign-on bonuses. It is for new drivers. They come here and train, we get them their CDL, or whatever their missing [for a] school bus endorsement.”

Once drivers are certified and agree to a three-year term, they’ll get a $3,000 bonus.

Williams said the incentive worked on him.

“Well, you get a sign-on bonus, which is pretty nice,” he said. “You also get a bonus everyday for coming in, pretty much. There’s a lot of different bonuses you can get here.”

The same day he applied, he said he got a call back.

“I actually got the job,” he said Wednesday. “I’m supposed to come in Tuesday morning. It’s pretty exciting. I can’t wait to learn new things.”

Rockford School District 205 isn’t the only one offering incentives: the Freeport School District is also offering a $1,500 hiring bonus.