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Strike Puts Chicago Into 'Uncharted Waters,' Expert Says

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The key sticking points for Chicago school teachers are focused more on work-security issues, rather than compensation, which one labor expert says puts this disagreement in "uncharted waters."

Both sides say they are not far apart on salary, but the teachers' union says lack of progress on teacher evaluations and teacher retention needs to be addressed.

Kathleen Hirsman told the CBS 2 morning news that negotiations typically settle a wide range of issues early and then focus on salary and benefits at the end.

In this case, the union appears to be focused on other issues.

"We are in uncharted waters in regards to this strike ," Hirsman said. "In the past, strikes usually center around pay increases, and it's just a matter of horse trading on the numbers. In this instance, the union does not seem to be focusing on salary as their main issue of contention."

Their issues are uncertainty over the new teacher evaluation system and teacher retention, which Hirsman said are areas in which the union may not have much leverage.

Teacher union President Karen Lewis said the two sides were close to agreement on a contract, but not close enough.

"We are not far apart on compensation, however we are apart on benefits," Lewis said. "We want to maintain the existing health benefits."

Lewis said the union is also concerned that a proposed new teacher evaluation system "could result in almost 6,000 teachers – or nearly 30 percent of our membership – being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable and leads to instability for our students."

She said the new evaluation system would rely too much on students' standardized test scores.

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