There were signs of possible progress in contract talks Wednesday in West Chicago Elementary District 33 as teachers walked picket lines for the third consecutive day.
The school board and teachers union returned to the bargaining table with a federal mediator at 1 p.m. and were meeting into the evening.
Mary Catherine Kosmach, the union's chief negotiator, said both bargaining teams are "close" to coming to terms on some issues, but nothing is official.
"I haven't signed a thing," Kosmach said. "As soon as we have good movement, we'll let you know."
School board spokesman Dave Barclay said both sides agreed not to discuss details about proposals being made at the bargaining table, but believe they're making progress.
Wednesday's session marks the fifth time the two sides have met in the past nine days.
The district's 284 teachers began striking Monday after more than 16 months of negotiations in which the two sides failed to come to an agreement on a proposed three-year contract. The strike has canceled classes for about 4,000 students at six elementary schools, one middle school and a preschool program that meets at two locations.
Several major sticking points remained as the two sides resumed talks Wednesday, including salary, health insurance, class sizes and the extended school day.
Negotiators met for hours Tuesday night, Kosmach said, but at one point the board "went backward" on its proposals for salaries and insurance.
Teachers in District 33 have been working without a contract since last summer.
It's unclear what proposals may now be on the table, but when negotiations broke down Sunday, the board had been proposing a new 23-step salary schedule with automatic annual raises between 2 percent and 2½ percent. The union requested automatic raises of up to 3.4 percent, as well as a 1.25 percent increase on base salaries in years two and three of the contract. The union had also been willing to accept an 18-step schedule -- an increase from the current 12-step schedule.
On the issue of insurance, the board has said it wants to put an upper limit of $1,200 on the amount it pays into a family PPO plan in an effort to control costs. Currently, the district pays 80 percent of costs in that particular plan, which officials say is chosen by a majority of teachers.
The union has said it wants the same type of coverage as administrators and custodians, whose union has a three-year agreement keeping the 80 percent coverage in place.
The school board announced it will hold a special meeting to discuss the negotiations with the public at 5 p.m. Thursday in advance of a regularly scheduled board meeting at 7 p.m. It will be held in the library community room at West Chicago Middle School, 238 E. Hazel St.
District officials say it will be an opportunity for parents and community members to "share concerns, ask questions and engage in discussion with board members in an informal meeting."