By Bryan Cohen
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle public schools were closed for a third day on Friday due to a teachers' strike that has idled 53,000 students and caused childcare headaches for working parents across the city, with no word on when stalled contract talks might resume.
Representatives for the Seattle Education Association and the school district met separately with mediators on Thursday, but union officials said there were no plans as yet for the two sides to formally reopen negotiations.
District officials said they were waiting for the teachers to agree to return to the bargaining table.
Some 5,000 instructors and support staff walked off the job and onto picket lines Wednesday, on what was supposed to be the first day of classes, after 11th-hour labor talks collapsed the night before in disagreements over wages, hours and performance evaluations.
The strike, which has forced the shutdown of all of Seattle's nearly 100 public schools, marked the first contract-related disruption of classes in three decades for the largest public education system in the Pacific Northwest.
The teachers' main grievance is that their salaries have not kept pace with surging living costs, particularly for housing, fueled by growth in a high-tech sector that has replaced manufacturing and maritime trades as the chief economic engine of the predominantly liberal city.
The walkout comes at a time of increased scrutiny of education spending in the state. The Washington state Supreme Court last month fined the state $100,000 for every day it failed to present a court-ordered plan for fully funding public schools..
The union encouraged its members to perform some kind of community service rather than walk picket lines on Friday, union spokesman Rich Wood said.
The district has offered the union $62 million in wage hikes, staff increases for special education and 20 minutes of added instructional time after two years, according to district spokesman Stacy Howard. She said the union was demanding $172 million in increased wages and benefits.
The union also said the district was insisting on extending the school day by 30 minutes without paying teachers and staff for added time, and noted that teachers had gone six years without a cost-of-living raise.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Walsh)