AUSTIN (KXAN) — School bus drivers have been in short supply for years, but COVID-19 absences and the great resignation have led many districts to cancel or combine routes. Now, Austin ISD is doing its best to attract more employees as the district driver shortage worsens.

During a Thursday afternoon job fair, the district searched for its next food services, transportation and service center employees.

“Our three terminal teams work magic to cover routes every day,” said Kris Hafezizadeh, executive director of AISD’s transportation department. “Sometimes in the afternoon, when we are very short, our dispatchers have to match routes and put it on a different stop. We do have some delays because of that.”

Currently, AISD is offering $17 an hour and a $400 stipend to its bus drivers.

“We need about 50 drivers, to be comfortable at this time,” Hafezizadeh said. “Every night…I do lose sleep on it.”

Hafezizadeh said he recognizes the wage the district is offering isn’t competitive enough when compared to other providers, including Capital Metro.

“It is lower than other districts including the transit authority, Capital Metro, in town,” Hafezizadeh said.

CapMetro is paying its drivers $22 an hour. It’s a tricky situation when Austin ISD wants to pay more but must look at the numbers closely.

“When we want to increase wages, we have to look at the funds of the district. Our biggest problem is the recapture, how much will we have to pay back to the state,” he said. “We are going to have to pay $750M. Just imagine if we could keep 20-30% of that.”

During the job fair, Hafezizadeh said there weren’t many people coming to apply for the bus driver position.

KXAN’s Kaitlyn Karmout spoke to one gentleman looking for a food services role.

“There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing someone take a bite of what I made and say ‘oh my God,'” Brad Wheeless said.

He added he used to work at the University of Texas at Austin in its food services program, but an injury prevented him from returning. Now that he’s back on his feet, he said he’s looking for his next move.

“Just to know that this is probably the highlight of their day within the school period…I like being part of that,” Wheeless said.

Del Valle ISD also held a job fair on Thursday to attract more district substitutes. The district says its substitute teachers are increasing, but they’re trying to come up with creative ways to “maintain an exceptional learning environment.”

“With that, I am pleased to share that we are increasing substitute rates, effective immediately, and adding extra duty pay for paraprofessionals who are approved at their campus to substitute for a teacher,” said Annette Tielle, Del Valle ISD’s superintendent.

Del Valle officials say it’s also trying to offer other substitute incentives, like adding an extra $10 a day for working five or more consecutive days for an additional $50 a week. The district says it will also offer an extra $5 for working a full day of work on Fridays.