CHICAGO (CBS) — Negotiations are getting close to the one-yard line.

That’s how Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard described the state of contract talks with the teachers union today.

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Brizard characterized the negotiations as “tense” and difficult.”

“We are tackling the most difficult issues, but still moving,” Brizard told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov. “For me, that’s gratifying.”

But Brizard couldn’t talk too many specifics about what those difficult issues are.

“We are close,” he said. “We have gone through over 400 issues from last November. We are so close to getting this thing done.”

Brizard spoke from his office, in the same building where those tense negotiations are taking place.

Wednesday, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis told reporters she was optimistic about ongoing negotiations.

Still, neither side can say there won’t be a strike come Monday, after the deadline to reach a deal expires. Teachers have been picking up strike materials all week.

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The Chicago Public Schools are now allowing parents to register for its “Children First” plan, which will open 144 schools from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. during the strike to provide students with a safe, engaging environment.

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In addition, 60 churches all over the city will be open as well.

Ministers from those locations came together to urge a settlement, saying Chicago is on the verge of becoming a national embarrassment and unable to protect or educate its children.

“If Chicago is the city that works, then get a deal done,” said Rev. Cy Fields, of New Landmark Church. “Get a deal done, plain and simple.”

Parents can sign up for the program online at cps.edu/childrenfirst.

“We’re looking to target the families we know have no other choices,” Brizard said.

Parents will also need their student’s ID numbers to register for the program.

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Those without a computer can do so by calling 311, as well.

As for the major issues, salary is likely one of them. CPS is offering teachers a 2 percent raise every year over four years.

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Lewis yesterday said the union hadn’t made a counter-offer yet.