The Pine Tree ISD board of trustees approved an amendment to its district of innovation plan at Monday’s meeting that will allow for fewer days in teacher contracts.

After a separate public meeting presented no objections, the trustees approved an amendment that will reduce contract length from 187 days to around 183 days.

Pine Tree ISD adopted its district of innovation plan in May 2017. According to the Texas Education Agency, districts of innovation can be exempt from teacher certifications and contracts, class size regulations, school calendar and some purchasing requirements.

The amendment trustees approved Monday addresses a change to the Texas Education Code that alters how time spent in student instruction is measured. The code now says student instruction is measured in minutes instead of days, and that each year, school districts much operate for at least 75,600 minutes.

Eric Cederstrom, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the education code change allows contract length for teachers to be fewer than 187 days.

“The district of innovation allows Pine Tree to alter some functions as coded in law,” Cederstrom said. “The current law defines a teacher contract as a 10-month equivalent to 187 days of instruction. The rationale that we put together was when we looked at minutes, it caused a disconnect between days on duty and days of instruction.”

By lengthening the instruction day to meet the minimum days required, the district needs only 167 1/2 days, he said. The upcoming year has a proposed calendar of 173 instruction days. The district wants to keep teacher contract days around 183 days.

“It just gives us a little more flexibility to adjust our starting date and then measure contracts,” Cederstrom said. “It also allows more flexibility to give our teachers time for summer leadership classes.”

The change does not affect teacher pay, he said. It instead raises hourly rates, he said.

Trustees did not discuss by how much the instruction days would be lengthened or how the school calendar would be affected with the fewer instruction days.

The board also approved changes and compensation for the 2018-19 teacher incentive program 4-1, with Place 2 Trustee Kerri Daugbjerg voting against.

“I always vote against it, because I don’t believe in it,” she said. “I don’t believe in incentivizing teacher pay for STAAR testing.”

In December, teachers received a pay incentive for students who scored in the “masters” grade level for the 2017-18 school year on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. The change to the program will incentivize teachers with a flat rate of $1,000 in December for the 2018-19 school year.

“Rather than a program based on student performance, we want to spread the money out evenly, which would be $1,000 per person for a teacher in a tested area,” Superintendent Steve Clugston said. “It is much easier to budget for, and I think overall more fair.”

Place 5 Trustee Jim Cerrato asked if teachers would still receive the funds if they have no students who pass in a tested area.

“Yes, because you were in that area,” Clugston said, “probably because you were the best we could find in that area. If that happened, I would probably move you from that area to find someone better.”

STAAR adds a different level of stress to a teacher, Clugston said. The new program helps incentivize teachers who deal with that extra stress, he said.

The board also set a special meeting to discuss the budget at noon June 24.