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While Chicago teachers picket in cold, contract talks warm a bit

The strike by Chicago teachers drifted into its second day Tuesday without a resolution. Some teachers braved the coldest weather this season to picket. Schoolchildren were invited to continue their studies at temporary education centers. And talks between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Board of Education were due to resume Tuesday.

Progress has already been made in those talks. And observers are now hopeful that a resolution will come soon, avoiding a repeat of the record strike last year that closed schools for 15 days.

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In recent weeks, union and school board negotiators publicly had taken no-compromise stands. The union was firm on a pay raise. The board insisted it had a deficit and, one way or another, would have to cut teacher salaries or benefits.

Apparently, the school board blinked first. Early Sunday, the board said it could fully fund employee medical benefits, an issue that had been a major stumbling block to a contract resolution. Previously, the board had said teachers would have to pick up 25 percent of the costs.

''It's a big step forward,'' says Ken Masson, program specialist with the board's office of communications. Now ''it's a matter of a raise, mainly.''

That is still a bone of contention.

Chicago Teachers Union president Jacqueline Vaughn has signaled that the union would press for at least a 5 percent increase. Until last weekend, school board president George Munoz had maintained teachers' pay would have to be cut, in effect, by shortening the school year by a few days. Apparently that has yet to be resolved, Mr. Masson says.

Mr. Munoz made a last-minute offer this weekend to fund a pay hike with whatever additional money the school system might get from the state, but union president Vaughn countered that the offer was ''too little, too late.''

The current union-school board impasse is following familiar patterns. This is the seventh time in 15 years that Chicago teachers have walked out. What has changed are the personalities: This is the first year for Mrs. Vaughn to head the union and for Munoz to be on the school board. He was elected board president in May.

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The situation is further complicated by outgoing school Superintendent Ruth Love, who has been shut out of this year's talks by Munoz. It was Munoz earlier this year who cast the deciding vote not to renew her contract.

The move stunned the public and many city officials and kept Munoz, a lawyer, in the center of the controversy. The current school strike has again cast him in an uncomfortable light. The Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday called for his resignation.

The school system's continuing crises have created a credibililty problem, observers say. The school board, teachers, and concerned citizen groups agree the state should provide Chicago schools with more money. The appropriated $1.5 billion ''is not enough,'' says George Schmidt, a member of a militant faction within the union. But money is getting harder to raise among skeptical downstate legislators.

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