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Chicago teachers strike in second day

Chicago Teachers Strike (CNN)

(CNN) — The Chicago public schools strike enters second day Tuesday, a day after officials huddled but failed to broker a deal to get the city’s 350,000 students back into the classroom.

School board President David Vitale said Monday night that a deal could come soon.

“We said to them again, ‘We should resolve this tomorrow, we are close enough,’” he said. “This is hard work. We want to get this resolved. We want our kids back in school.”

Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years has pushed parents to scramble for alternatives for their children.

“If the kids are not in school, they’re out getting into some kind of trouble … when they should be in school, learning,” said Shatara Scaggs, a mother of two children in kindergarten and first grade who opposes the teachers’ decision to strike. “I think they should be in school getting an education.”

Police, expecting an uptick in trouble with more kids on the streets, pulled officers from desk duty to increase patrols due to the strike. Dozens of churches and civic organizations stepped in to provide activities for thousands of suddenly idle students, while the school district opened 144 of its 578 schools for part of the day to provide a safe environment and meals to children in need.

Many children going to these in-school programs had to pass picket lines, as their teachers chanted, held signs and otherwise made their opinions heard. Ola Esho, father of a student at Ray Elementary School, told CNN affiliate WBBM he “was not happy” about the commotion and tension, which he said he unnerved his children.

“I would not want to keep my children here unnecessarily, so I’m taking them back home,” said Yahu Vinayaraj, another father of children at the same school in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

The union that represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff in the nation’s third-largest school district called the strike after negotiators failed to reach a contract agreement with school administrators despite eight months of talks. The union said they were close Sunday night to a deal on pay, but far apart on teacher evaluations, benefits and other issues.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said teachers were harming Chicago’s children by striking.

“This is, in my view, a strike of choice, and it’s the wrong choice for our children,” he said. “Stay at the table. Finish it for our children.”

He said negotiators had resolved all but two issues — teacher evaluations and provisions dealing with jobs for laid-off teachers.

However, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said teachers had no choice but to strike, despite “intense but productive” bargaining sessions.

The primary disagreement appears to be teacher job security in the wake of a new program that evaluates teachers based on students’ standardized test scores. Chicago Teachers Union board member Jay Rehak called the idea “data-driven madness.”

As many as 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs under the evaluation system, according to Lewis, who called the system “unacceptable.” The mayor’s office, the city of Chicago, and school officials have questioned that job loss figure.

“This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator,” Lewis said Sunday. “Further, there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.”

Another sticking point is a “recall” policy that would put laid-off teachers in line for job openings at other schools within the district. Emanuel said such a policy, supported by the union, would take hiring decisions away from school principals and put them in the hands of central administrators and union leaders.

“Direction and dictation should not come out of downtown,” the mayor said.

Teachers also want to block changes to their health benefits and win concessions on classroom conditions.

Pay is also an issue. However, the union said the two sides are close to a pay agreement after school officials offered to increase salaries 16% over four years on average for most teachers. The average teacher salary in Chicago was $74,839 for the 2011-2012 school year, according to the district.

In addition to the pay raise, the school system’s offer includes paid maternity leave and short-term disability coverage. It would also freeze health care cost increases for two-thirds of the union’s membership.

The high school day would also be shortened slightly, and teachers would be limited to teaching five classes, the district said.

The district’s existing proposal would cost $400 million over four years, Vitale said.

CNN’s Casey Wian, Greg Botelho, Ted Rowlands and Greg Morrison contributed to this report.