The outlook was bleak entering into Tuesday night’s contract negotiations between the Newton National Educator’s Association and USD 373.

And to their credit, NEA reps were willing to accept frozen salaries for a year in the wake of more than $1.2 million in budget cuts made by the board just this month.

“We realize that the district has gone through cost cutting and it hasn’t been easy,” said NEA representative Nathan Dyck. “Teachers are a part of that.”

But what they get in return for frozen wages is where negotiations broke down — and remained unresolved at the end of a more than three hour meeting.

Negotiators asked for the removal of two professional days from the calendar, without a change in pay.

“One way to give a pay increase is to reduce the number of days that we have to be here,” said teacher representative Deb Helberg.

That option, the 16th option on a list of about 20 considered Tuesday, came close to making it.

But board of education members said the idea was not ratifiable by the board — meaning they believed the idea would not have enough support to pass the seven member school board.

Also close to making it were options of giving up one day, to do nothing to the calendar while freezing salaries, removing an inservice day and freeze salaries and to drop two professional days — paying for one and not the other.

Professional days, the number and effectiveness of, have been a bargaining issue for several years.

Two years ago, the board asked for two more professional days and added $80,000 to the budget for each of those days.

“The district bought those days, and as far as I am concerned, we will have those days,” said board representative John Esau.

But NEA representatives said Tuesday those days were not needed and were ineffective despite procedures negotiated that were designed to make them more productive.

That topic — how effective they are and how to make better use of them, will be a topic discussed at a meeting of the team June 8.

“We have to ask if we’re trying to make something productive we don’t really need,” Dyck said. “And I don’t know how to determine if we need them.”

“There is agreement we need those,” added NEA representative Elizabeth Gunn. “But we have too much time (for them) —We’re stretching those out.”

The team is meeting June 8 in an attempt to solve the issue and put a contract in teacher’s hands without going to impasse.