(CBS/AP) CHICAGO - Thousands of teachers, parents and supporters marched through downtown Chicago on the first day of a school strike.
The crowd Monday afternoon stretched for several blocks and was expected to swell through the early evening and into the city's rush hour. Some protesters carried signs that said "Chicago Teachers United" and "Fair Contract Now." Others waved red pom-poms and chanted. Earlier in the day, thousands of teachers picketed around neighborhood schools.
The city's 25,000 public school teachers are on strike for the first time in a quarter-century, after the latest contract talks broke down Sunday with no deal to avert a walkout.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said late Sunday night there had been some progress in contract talks, but "we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike."
The city's public school teachers make an average of $71,000 a year. Both sides said they were close to an agreement on wages. What apparently remains are issues involving teacher performance and accountability, which the union saw as a threat to job security.
Late Sunday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has already forced teachers to lengthen their school days, said he was "disappointed" in the union's decision to continue with a strike.
"I am disappointed that we have come to this point, given that even all the other parties acknowledge how close we are because this is a strike of choice," Emanuel said. "Because of how close we are, it is a strike that is unnecessary."
On Monday, the mayor urged negotiators to come up with a new contract for the city's teachers quickly for the sake of the children.
Also expressing disappointment: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who released a statement in advance of a visit to Chicago for fundraisers. It said in part, "I am disappointed by the decision of the Chicago Teachers Union to turn its back on not only a city negotiating in good faith but also the hundreds of thousands of children relying on the city's public schools to provide them a safe place to receive a strong education."
Romney then accused President Obama of siding with the teachers union.
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