Posted: Sep 9, 2012 10:07 AM by CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) -- The head of Chicago's school board called talks Saturday "productive" but said no agreement has been reached yet to avert a looming teachers strike.
"We've got parents and children who are wondering what's going to happen to them Monday morning," David Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, told reporters Saturday night. "We have an obligation to them to tell them what's going to happen. And we really want to get this work done."
Teachers and support staff in the nation's third-largest public school school system set a walkout date for Monday, which would mark the first time they have gone on strike in 25 years.
If a strike happens, it would affect nearly 700 schools and about 400,000 students, including some from neighborhoods struggling with crime and gang problems.
For them, that would mean the school year would abruptly stop not longer after it started: Some students in the district began class on August 13, and more -- on a different schedule -- started on September 4.
According to a blog on the Chicago Teachers Union's website, negotiations began at 10 a.m. Saturday at union headquarters.
Stephanie Gadlin, a union spokesman, called Vitale's presence at the talks "encouraging," but added "both sides remain far apart on core issues such as job security, compensation and how to give our students a better day."
Gadlin said talks should continue through the weekend, noting the union could act swiftly to cancel the planned strike.
"As it stands, there is no plan to do that," the spokeswoman said about calling off the strike.
Vitale said the school system presented the union with an "updated proposal," from one submitted Thursday, that takes into account the union's concerns on issues such as compensation, merit pay and health care.
"It does cover all of the issues that they have raised and it has been responsive to those issues," Vitale said, nothing that there have been "well over 100 meetings" over eight months of talks. "This is a proposal that we believe is very close to what is needed to do a deal."
While no time or place has been set, the board president said both sides have agreed to resume negotiations Sunday morning.
"We have high hopes that we can get back to tomorrow, we can move to the end game," Vitale said.