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No school for 350,000 students as Chicago teachers strike

<div>After days of nonstop negotiations, the Chicago public school teachers have decided to go on strike for the first time in 25 years, leaving parents of more than 400,000 children scrambling to make child care plans.</div>
Parents in Chicago scrambled to find accommodations for their kids after 26,000 teachers and support staff walked out in the nation's third-largest school district.

The walkout came after a weekend of unsuccessful eleventh-hour contract negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago's public schools, affecting 350,000 students.

As the two sides went back to the table on Monday morning, many parents dropped their children off at 144 contingency locations that the school district was keeping open for half days during the strike, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Dozens of churches and community organizations also were opening their doors to students for at least part of the day.

John Harvey and Sarah Vanderstow were dropping off their 7-year-old son, Aiden, at the Disney Magnet School, but they were nervous because it was unfamiliar to the second-grader, the Tribune reported.

Vanderstow said they had no choice because their usual school, Nettelhorst, was closed.

"I don't know who these people are who will be watching him and that concerns me," she said, according to the Tribune. "But I have to go to work and we can't afford to pay for him to go somewhere else all day."

Another parent, Vicente Perez, who spoke to the Tribune decided against dropping his fourth- and sixth-grade sons at a contingency location when he realized they would have to cross a line of picketing teachers, which scared the boys. Perez and his wife decided to take their children to a church--some of which had opened their doors to help out with the displaced students--or just keep them home, the report said.

After a violent Chicago summer, police Supt. Garry McCarthy said he was "emptying our offices" to patrol the thousands of unsupervised kids on the streets.

The strike follows more than a year of slow, contentious negotiations over salary, health benefits and job security after the school board unanimously voted last year to cancel a 4 percent pay hike in the final year of the teachers' contract, NBC Chicago reported.

Chicago teachers make an average of between $69,470 and $76,000 per year, second-highest to New York City. The deal Chicago Public Schools put on the table includes a 16 percent average salary increase, said school board president David Vitale.

"We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said.

"This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could've avoided," Lewis said Sunday. "Throughout these negotiations, we've remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide students the education they so rightfully deserve."

Vitale said more than 20 offers had been made to teachers throughout the talks in hopes of preventing a strike.

"There's only so much money in the system," Vitale said. "There's only so many things we can do that are available to us that we actually believe will not hurt the educational agenda that we think is best for our children."

He said the deal they put on the table would cover four years and cost the city $400 million.

"Recognizing the board's fiscal woes," Lewis said the two sides were not far apart on compensation, which had previously been a major sticking point. Issues preventing a deal Sunday night were health benefits, the teacher evaluation system and job security, echoing debates that have played out in school systems across the country in recent years.

The strike sets up a historic confrontation between Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama's former top White House aide, and organized labor in the president's home city.

"I am disappointed that we have come to this point given that all the other parties acknowledged how close we are, because this is a strike of choice,"  said Emanuel. "And because of how close we are, it is a strike that is unnecessary."

The strike could hurt relations between Obama's Democrats and national labor unions, which are among the biggest financial supporters of the Democratic Party, and will be needed by the party to help get out the vote in the Nov. 6 election.

While Emanuel has not attended the talks, he and Lewis have clashed. She has accused him of being a bully and using profanity in private meetings.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney offered his view of the strike, characterizing it as another issue on which he and President Obama differ.

"I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city's public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education," Romney said in a statement on Monday.

He charged that Obama favors unions over students.

Teachers walked off the job for 19 days in October 1987. Prior to that, there had been nine strikes between 1969 and 1987.

Teachers at the city's charter schools -- serving about 45,000 students, or 12 percent of the city's total -- were not part of the strike and those schools functioned normally.
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