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Negotiations between teachers union, Chicago School Board down to the wire (+video)

Almost 30,000 teachers and staff members could strike Monday if a deal is not struck between the teachers union and the school board in Chicago. The strike is over proposed reforms by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

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Only about 60 percent of high school students in Chicago graduate, compared with a national average of 75 percent and more than 90 percent in some affluent Chicago suburbs.

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More than 80 percent of the 402,000 students in Chicago public schools qualify for free lunches because they are from low-income families.

The Chicago Public Schools say they have little room to maneuver on salary, with both the state and the city in dire financial straits. The district has a projected $3 billion deficit over the next three years and faces a crushing burden of pensions promised to retiring teachers.

The Chicago School Board took back a scheduled 4 percent pay raise for teachers last year because of budget problems. Emanuel is offering a 2 percent pay increase annually over the next four years. The union wants the rescinded raise restored, plus higher annual increases.

Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the teachers union, said on Saturday his own two children were attending Chicago Public Schools. He expressed hope the conflict would be resolved without a strike.

"My young one just started kindergarten four days ago, and so there's a lot at stake for all of us," Sharkey said.

Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; editing by Peter Cooney.

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