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Chicago mayor: Contract must be settled with kids in class

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((AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong))
Thousands of public school teachers rally for the second consecutive day outside the Chicago Board of Education district headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 in Chicago. Teachers walked off the job Monday for the first time in 25 years over issues that include pay raises, classroom conditions, job security and teacher evaluations.

CHICAGO – Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants contract negotiations with teachers to continue with students in class.

He spoke to reporters Wednesday as teachers in the nation's third-largest school district picketed for the third day. A number of issues remain, including teacher evaluations. But the Chicago Teachers Union says they're far from an agreement.

The strike has left more than 350,000 students out of class.

Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools has increased the hours it's keeping schools open where children can go during the day. Those schools don't offer instruction, but allow students to get meals and be supervised.

Emanuel says those 140 some schools will also be increasing their availability with computers. He says that's so students can get in some learning.

Emanuel reiterated his message that the strike was avoidable.

But the teachers were lowering expectations for an agreement, buoyed by energetic rallies in which even parents inconvenienced by the strike waved placards in support. Other unions were joining in, with school custodian representatives saying their members will walk off the job this week as well.

Board President David Vitale, the lead schools negotiator, said that a deal could be reached, but union President Karen Lewis and her colleagues emerged from the talks accusing the board of having dug in its heels with its new proposal. Among the biggest remaining issues are a new teacher evaluation system and a process for deciding which laid-off teachers can be rehired.

"There's been — let's put it this way — centimeters (of progress) and we're still kilometers apart," said Lewis, who earlier stated it was "lunacy" to think the issues could be wrapped up quickly.

School officials also took steps to prepare for a long haul, despite persistent assertions by Emanuel and others that the strike was "unnecessary" and could be resolved quickly. The school district in the country's third largest city announced that, beginning Thursday, the 147 drop-off centers where students can get free breakfast and a morning of supervision will be open six hours a day rather than four.

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Associated Press writers Sophia Tareen, Michael Tarm and Jason Keyser contributed to this report.

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