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Amid Critical CPS School Bus Driver Shortage, One Company Uses Halloween Event As Recruiting Tool

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There was relief this week from Chicago Public Schools' busing vendors, as the district relaxed a vaccine mandate that many feared would worsen a driver shortage that is already causing major problems.

But vendors are still just as desperate for drivers. So as CBS 2's Tim McNicholas reported, one vendor used a Halloween event as a stealth recruiting event.

Instead of a haunted house, the event involved a haunted school bus. And it wasn't a typical Halloween party either – it was also a recruitment tool for the Illinois Central School Bus Company.

Employees roamed through the spooky decorations looking for parents and other adults who might want to become drivers.

"Once you quit that job, you could come work here," recruiter Doris Garcia told a man at the event.

The impact of the driver shortage is far scarier than anything on that school bus, if you ask Illinois Central contract manager Cynthia Sosnowski.

"You got buses that are late, Sosnowski said. "They're just getting there late - an hour late to take kids home."

Chicago Public Schools announced at the end of summerM that all staff — including drivers — must be vaccinated by mid-October. That caused about 10 percent of bus drivers in the district to quit.

Just a few days ago, the district relaxed that policy and said that for now, unvaccinated staff could instead take weekly COVID tests.

"Thank God," Sosnowski said.

Sosnowski said even more drivers would have quit if not for that change.

"At least a handful - but right now with the situation we're in, that handful has a huge impact," she said.

But Sosnowski is not taking her foot off the gas. She even plans on calling some of the drivers who quit back in August to see if the new rule changed their minds.

"Whatever we can to get these kids to school is what we're going to do," Sosnowski said.

Sosnowski hopes to hire about 20 drivers by the end of the month. She is already brainstorming more creative ways to find applicants.

The Chicago Public Schools are also paying families 500 dollars per month to take their kids to School. They say 415 families have taken them up on that.

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