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Seattle teachers pause protests for 9/11 anniversary

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Ted S. Warren/AP

(Read caption) Striking Seattle School District teachers and other educators walk a picket line on a pedestrian overpass, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, near Franklin High School in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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Seattle teachers striking over wages dropped their picket signs Friday and worked on community service projects in commemoration of the 9/11 terror attacks.

After failing to reach a contract agreement Tuesday and delaying the start of school for some 53,000 students, Washington state's largest school district and the teachers union still remain at odds over pay raises, teacher evaluations and other issues.

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"No new negotiations are scheduled, but that could change, or not, at any time," Rich Wood, spokesman for the Seattle Education Association, said Friday.

Seattle Public Schools spokesman Stacy Howard said Thursday afternoon that both sides are continuing to meet with mediators, but negotiations have not resumed. Teachers from the district's 97 schools planned things like park cleanups or food drives on Friday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Seattle Public Schools offered a pay increase of nearly 9 percent over three years. The teachers union countered with a 10.5 percent increase over two years.

Teacher salaries range from about $44,000 to more than $86,000 for more experienced educators with advanced degrees, according to the district. Teachers have not received a cost-of-living pay raise in six years.

"We will not be picketing in front of the schools," said teacher union spokesman Jonathan Knapp.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said on Friday that if the strike continues into next week, the city's Parks and Recreation department will offer drop-in activities for up to 3,000 children at its community centers.

"This week, we have reached capacity at several centers and recognize the demand is likely to grow should the strike continue," Murray said in a statement. "Thousands of families are seeking options for their school-age kids. We've brought on additional staff and AmeriCorps volunteers to ease the burden for parents who need to go back to work."

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The educators have joined other workers pushing for higher wages that compete with the city's growing, highly paid tech workers, who can easily draw six figures.

Olga Addae, a science teacher at Franklin High School, walked the picket line Thursday with other union members who said they will stay out of the classroom until the district offers a fair compensation package and agrees to stop cutting student services.

"We're doing this for the students and for a better school system," said Addae, a teacher of 21 years.

Rents have ballooned by more than 37 percent since mid-2010, according to Apartment Insights Washington. The median rental price for homes in Seattle in July was $2,354 a month, Zillow reports, compared with a national average of $1,376.

The city is having a housing crisis because more than 40 percent of the new jobs in the region are with Amazon or Boeing, and their starting salaries are twice as much as an experienced teacher, Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata said.

"That means the people who are educating our children are finding it difficult to live in the city where the children they teach live," he said.