Pine Tree ISD has approved a new teacher salary scale that includes higher pay for first-year educators.

A starting teacher in the district will make a base salary of $40,000 for the 2021-22 school year, an increase of $1,070, after the board approved the changes Monday.

The previous salary scale topped at 27 years of experience with a base salary of $58,040 before stipends. The new scale goes up to 30 years with a base salary of $61,500 before stipends.

The new salary scale also raises the pay bump that Pine Tree ISD teachers get after their first year, from $500 to $600.

Superintendent Steve Clugston said the average yearly salary increase for educators is about $1,000.

He said the district is able to increase salaries through its general fund by finding ways to be cost-efficient in other areas of the budget.

“Every year as you get people better trained and you get better systems in place, you can live a little leaner,” he said. “The more efficiency we have, the more we can pay better people, and the better people we have the more efficient we are.”

The board also again reviewed COVID-19 safety protocols and decided to keep masks through the end of the school year but will make them optional in the summer.

A growing number of area school districts, including White Oak and Marshall ISDs, recently have waived mask requirements for the remainder of the school year.

Pine Tree ISD is planning no virtual learning option for 2021-22.

“That gives us the summer to run through those protocols,” Clugston said. “If there’s any adjustments we need to make, we’ll be ready for next fall.”

Summer classes includes some staff members and a small group of students. Clugston said the smaller group is easier to manage to see how different safety protocols will work.

Previously, Clugston said seniors will not have to wear masks during Pine Tree High School’s graduation ceremony May 27. This allows seniors to have their photos taken without a mask on as they receive their diplomas.

Clugston added that everyone who will be giving out diplomas has received a COVID-19 vaccine.

However, the graduation ceremony also will include a place for people to sit if they feel uncomfortable around people without masks.

Clugston said on the home side of the stadium, masks will be optional. But on the visitor side, they will be mandatory.

“Anyone that doesn’t feel comfortable will have a place to go where everyone is masked,” he said. “We’ll set it up so you can see from either side.”

This will allow older family members or those with health concerns to still attend the graduation ceremony, he said.

The board also swore in new Place 2 Trustee Drew Seidel at Monday’s meeting.

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Kristen is the News-Journal's education reporter. A Longview native, she got a journalism degree and a graduate certificate at Texas Tech University. She covers a variety of issues, including school finance, board meetings and happenings at local schools.