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No formal negotiations on Day 3 of Chicago teachers strike

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:20 PM EDT, Wed September 12, 2012
  • NEW: Spokeswoman says no formal discussions between board, union leaders
  • Sides apparently far apart in deal to get 350,000 students back to class
  • School board president said it is "time for us to get serious"
  • "We moved more than they did"- union official Jesse Sharkey

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Chicago (CNN) -- Negotiators in the Chicago teachers strike failed to engage in contract talks on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the school board said in an e-mail.

Becky Carroll wrote that board members had been at the site of negotiations since 11:30 a.m. but had not been able to have a "formal meeting" with the teachers union.

It appears the sides are still far apart on a deal that would enable 350,000 students to return to class.

The walkout in the nation's third-largest public school system neared the end of its third day without both sides wrangling over contract terms involving teacher evaluations and other issues.

Terrilyn Alexander is teaming with her husband to tutor their three children while schools are closed. She called the walkout selfish.

"The fact is, there should never be a reason to keep children out of school," Alexander told CNN affiliate WBBM.

Negotiations wrapped up Tuesday night with neither side optimistic a deal was near.

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"This was silly season," board President David Vitale told reporters after emerging from more than 10 hours of talks during which he said teachers were presented with a comprehensive proposal.

"It is time for us to get serious," Vitale said.

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Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the latest discussions centered on teacher evaluation and that "some substantial movement" was made.

"I don't want to get in the weeds, but I'd say we moved more than they did today," he said.

The board proposal would leave some 28% of teachers in danger of dismissal within two years, Sharkey said, calling that "an insult to our profession."

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"We have a considerable way to go," union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said in a news release. "This is a fact they cannot deny."

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Of 49 points in the contract offer, the union has agreed to just six, she said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel cast the strike in different terms.

"This was a strike of choice. And it's the wrong choice for the children," Emanuel told reporters.

After five months of negotiations, "we're down to two issues," he said.

The sticking points are teacher evaluations and provisions dealing with jobs for laid-off teachers, Emanuel said.

The union, which represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff, called the strike on Sunday night.

The union said the two sides had been close to a deal on pay, but far apart on evaluations, benefits and other issues.

As many as 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs under the evaluation system, said union President Karen Lewis, who called the system "unacceptable."

The mayor's office, the city and school officials have questioned that job-loss figure.

The median base salary for Chicago public schools teachers in 2011 was $67,974, according to the system's annual financial report.

Some student-athletes expressed frustration after sports programs were closed.

Demetrius Harris, a senior football player at Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School, said a prolonged strike could dwindle his choices for college.

"It's really affecting our senior year," Harris told the affiliate. "I mean, we have six or seven more games left and we're trying to play as much as we can. We don't have another shot at this. It's our last year, it's our last time to prove to colleges and recruiters that we can go out and play."

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CNN's Amanda Watts, Lateef Mungin, Josh Levs, Michael Pearson, Casey Wian, Greg Botelho, Ted Rowlands and Greg Morrison contributed to this report.

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