WOBURN — As striking teachers and supporters picketed outside City Hall on Saturday morning, both sides said they have tentative agreements on new contracts for teachers and paraprofessionals, but remain at odds over the city’s demand that the union reimburse the city $250,000.
During a news conference in his office Saturday morning, Mayor Scott Galvin said the city spent more than $270,000 to cover necessary costs during the illegal work stoppage and wants the Woburn Teachers’ Association to pay $250,000 of that sum.
The reimbursement demand is the sole outstanding issue in the labor dispute, Galvin and the union said, and was set to be addressed Sunday when both sides resume negotiations in hopes of bringing the strike to an end in time for school to reopen on Monday. The teachers have been off the job since Jan. 30. Negotiations weren’t held Saturday because the mediator wasn’t available, the city said.
“This is the final piece,” Galvin said during the news conference. “We got real costs the city incurred.”
The expenses include police details, the bill for presenters at a professional development day that was canceled, and school lunch costs, the city said. Galvin said the city is not planning to discipline any teachers for striking, which is illegal in Massachusetts.
But the teachers’ union said Saturday that it doesn’t have enough money to cover the $250,000 bill and some parents who support the strike said they believe Galvin’s demand is vindictive.
Barbara Locke, president of the Woburn Teachers’ Association, which has 550 members, said the union wants the city to prioritize reopening the schools over settling the dispute over strike costs.
“The idea was to sit it aside, talk about it, and if it’s proved that we owe that, then we’ll pay that. In the meantime, we just want to get back to school,” she said in an interview after Galvin’s news conference.
Locke said the union has also asked to see receipts for expenses the city said it incurred.
Several parents who support the striking teachers said Saturday that they believe Galvin’s demand is unreasonable.
“It’s just bullying,” said Jackie Buttaro, whose stepdaughter attends Woburn Public Schools. “He knows what they can and can’t afford.”
In the past year, several teacher unions across the state have gone on strike, including in Brookline, Haverhill, and Malden. Schools were shuttered between one and four days in those districts. Eventually the teachers and communities settled on new contracts.
In those communities, Galvin said the unions reimbursed the municipal governments for costs incurred during work stoppages. The Haverhill Education Association, which went on strike for four days last fall, agreed to pay $200,000 for strike-related costs and to establish a scholarship fund.
Galvin accused the Massachusetts Teachers Association of encouraging the district’s educators to strike and called on the statewide labor organization to reimburse the city for its expenses on behalf of the Woburn Teachers’ Association.
“They have $49 million in their bank account. They’re the ones encouraging Woburn to strike. It’s playbook. Typical playbook for the MTA,” Galvin said.
He later said: “We need to stop the MTA.”
In a statement issued after Galvin’s news conference, MTA President Max Page said the mayor brought on the strike by “failing to address Woburn educators’ concerns for more than one year.”
“Now he is responsible for prolonging the strike and its related costs,” Page said.
He said Galvin “needs to stop blaming” the MTA “for his actions that led educators to go on strike.”
The MTA has no control or authority to order members of any local affiliates, including the WTA, to return to work, Page said.
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.
The Woburn Teachers’ Association has proposed making a $50,000 payment, which includes $15,000 each to the James L. McKeown Boys & Girls Club of Woburn and the North Suburban YMCA in Woburn, and $10,000 to the city’s parent-teacher organizations and a scholarship fund at the high school, according to a copy of its offer.
The union has already wiped out its reserves of $83,000 and gone into debt because of court-ordered fines of $85,000 that the association has incurred so far for striking, Locke said.
Galvin said the city doesn’t receive money that the association pays in court-ordered fines. Those funds, he said, go to the state.
Locke said the union had been hoping to have a deal in place to return the classroom to announce on Saturday.
“We could have made that beautiful announcement today and let the families know so it’s off their minds and off their hearts, but it didn’t happen,” she said.
On Friday, a Middlesex Superior Court judge ordered the Massachusetts Teachers Association to halt all support for the strike.
Judge Camille Sarrouf Jr. ordered the union to abide by a Jan. 27 ruling of the state’s Employment Relations Board that the union end all strike-related activities, according to a copy of the ruling released by Galvin and the school committee.
Amy Panichella, who has three children in the school system, said she fully supports the district’s teachers and blamed the impasse on Galvin. Since her children have entered the school district, she said teachers have begged the city for what they need during contract negotiations and then conceded to the city’s demands in favor of keeping classes in session.
“I commend them for finally saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Panichella said.
Emery Popoloski, who has two students in the system, said she is scheduled to address the City Council on Tuesday to float the idea of a recall campaign targeting Galvin and to ask councilors to consider taking a vote of no-confidence in the mayor.
“This has turned into a big ego fight and has absolutely nothing to do with contract negotiations,” she said.
Alec Kealing, a public school teacher in Waltham who has two children in the Woburn school system, said he is concerned that good teachers won’t seek employment in the district because of the way City Hall treats the union.
“Right now graduating teachers have their choice of districts,” he said. “It’s not a good look to be a community that does not support your teachers.”