Any shortage of school bus drivers in New Jersey is nowhere near as dire as just a year ago.

Still, companies and districts would love to get more wannabe drivers on board, because any full rosters in September can easily dissolve by winter.

"Definitely things are improving," said Chloe Williams, a member of the New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association. "We are finally getting applicants, fresh applicants. It's taken the pressure off and we're able to run our businesses proficiently."

Williams is president of BR Williams in Woodstown, which currently handles routes for more than a dozen districts in the southwest region of the state.

During the first week or so of school, Williams said, parents may be unhappy with the performance of their districts' buses. But in most cases, the shortcomings aren't a product of driver shortages — drivers are getting used to their new routines (many drivers handle one school after another in the same day) and schools are handling change requests from parents on a daily basis.

As of now, 3% or less of the routes handled by BR Williams still need some tweaking, Williams said.

There's a constant need for drivers, she said, because it's unknown how many drivers will stay on for the entire year, or how many trainees will make it through the entire process.

A month ago, BR Williams was in "great shape" staff-wise. They then lost 10 drivers in the two weeks before school. On Wednesday, the contractor was dealing with a driver who was unhappy with her route and refused to take it in the afternoon.

Districts and vendors have found it easier to find drivers in 2023, according to Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.

"Much better than last year," Bozza said. "There still are vacancies remaining that are difficult to find candidates.

To recruit more drivers, starting pay has increased a sizeable amount throughout much of the state. In recent years, districts have offered bonuses to drivers who stay on the job for a certain amount of time.

The Manchester Township School District is now paying prospective drivers while they train for the job. Superintendent John Berenato said drivers are hired at a little more than $23 an hour, with perks such as paid sick time and family benefits.

"We're in pretty good shape this year, but we're still hiring," Berenato said.

The district handles 107 routes each day.

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