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Despite hardships, many parents side with educators as Woburn teacher strike drags on

Woburn educators continue to picket outside Woburn Common on Friday, the fifth consecutive day schools have closed due to the strike.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

WOBURN — In the protracted fight over a new contract between the city’s educators and its elected leaders, many Woburn parents have sided with their children’s striking teachers, their mounting frustration aimed squarely at the local school committee and long-serving mayor.

“The school systems are a huge part of the health of any city,” said Derrick Genova, a parent with two children at Malcolm White Elementary School. “To me, every day this goes on because of the mayor and School Committee, it just makes the city look worse.”

Woburn Public Schools were closed Friday for a fifth consecutive day as teachers continued to walk the picket line, keeping nearly 4,300 students out of the classroom. Many parents have stood alongside them throughout the week, rallying en masse, despite the cold, at Woburn Common in front of City Hall. They’ve also dropped off coffee, breakfast, and hand warmers to the teachers throughout the week.

Negotiations between the Woburn Teachers Association and the city’s seven-term Mayor Scott Galvin stalled again Thursday night, though both parties said “significant progress” had been made.


Bargaining continued Friday. WTA President Barbara Locke said she expects a tentative agreement will be struck Friday night.

But Galvin and the school committee announced late Friday night that a deal had not yet been reached.

Woburn parents, in the mean time, have been forced to cope with the school closures, many scrambling to come up with alternative child care arrangements. In interviews with the Globe, several parents expressed their support for their children’s teachers, and blamed Galvin for the ongoing disruption to their lives.

“The WTA is not asking for a lot here and they are well within their rights to ask for the minimal concessions,” said Matthew Mickle, father of a first grader, in an e-mail. “They are also willing to compromise, which the city has so far seemed to not want to do.”


Genova was one of hundreds of parents, students, and teachers who rallied this week, many hoisting protest signs and participating in chants. Genova and his wife are high school teachers in Wellesley and Somerville, respectively. Their child care this week has been “patchwork,” Genova said, relying mostly on help from their children’s grandparents.

“It’s not ideal,” Genova said, about his children missing school. “I’d like them to get back in. But I really think a lot of this is on the mayor just kind of refusing to budge.”

Caitlin Carbonello and her husband have been taking shifts watching their children while working from home this week, getting help from family and the local Boys & Girls Club, which extended its hours in light of the strike.

“It’s an inconvenience to the families, but it’s also an inconvenience to the teachers and teachers’ families,” said Carbonello, who took her fourth grader out to the picket line to show support. “It works both ways.”

Other parents have leaned on one another for child care.

“They’ve been fighting for a very long time to get a fair contract, and nobody wanted to go on strike,” said Sarah Bergman-McCool, who volunteered to watch her two children’s classmates. “But without any power for the teachers to be able to get a fair contract, this is what they had to do.”

Jackie Buttaro, a parent to a fourth-grade student at Malcolm White Elementary School, adjusted the days she went into the office this week to work around child care, and also watched three children whose parents needed help.


“We were willing to do whatever we needed to do to support the teachers and adjust,” she said. “The way that they teach our kids, and the way that they handle them, it’s so valuable and they’re not replaceable.”

The unplanned week without school also has been tough for some students, like Dawson LeBlanc, a sophomore at Woburn Memorial High School.

He picketed each day this week alongside his teachers, but worried about missing instructional time that could have helped him with subjects he has been struggling with this school year.

“I have three MCAS coming up this year, and this could have been a week that I could have gotten a lot of instruction and help on figuring out the material I need to know for these massive tests I need to graduate,” he said. “I honestly just hope I’m in school next week because I really need that time.”

Members of the WTA, who have been without a contract since August, voted to authorize the strike last week. When negotiations stalled through the weekend, the educators began picketing Monday morning.

Several parents and students have stood alongside their Woburn teachers who began their strike on Monday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The union, which represents 550 members, including nurses and paraprofessionals, is demanding increased pay for teachers and paraprofessionals, compensation for currently unpaid work days, smaller class sizes, and physical education twice a week for elementary students.

On Wednesday, a Middlesex Superior Court judge held Locke and the WTA in contempt of court for violating an injunction ordering an end to the strike. The union now faces fines of $40,000 per day, beginning Thursday, plus $5,000 each day the strike goes on.


It’s illegal for Massachusetts teachers and other public employees to strike, though recent teacher strikes, or at least the threats of them, have largely proven effective with contract agreements following shortly after each one.

On Friday, a Superior Court judge ordered the Massachusetts Teachers Association to comply with a Jan. 27 ruling of the state’s Employment Relations Board that the union end its support of the Woburn strike and instruct the teachers to return to work, according to a copy of the ruling released by Galvin and the school committee.

The judge gave the union until Saturday at 11 a.m. to provide a written account of the steps taken to comply with the order.

MTA President Max Page said in a statement that the union “has no control or authority to order members of any local affiliates, including the WTA, to return to work.”

The association is pushing for state legislation that would allow some public sector workers, such as teachers, to go on strike; the proposal would not apply to public safety workers, such as police officers.

Woburn is the latest district tangled in failed contract negotiations. In the last year, multiple teacher unions across the state went on strike, including in Brookline, Haverhill, and Malden. Schools were shuttered between one and four days in those districts and resulted in new contracts.


Earlier this month, Melrose Education Association members also voted to authorize the strike after working without a contract since June. But that was quickly averted after educators and the Melrose School Committee came to an agreement on a new contract the following night.

Correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.

Deanna Pan can be reached at Follow her @DDpan. Adria Watson can be reached at Follow her @adriarwatson.