WOBURN — Educators and the city’s public school leadership reached agreement on a new contract Sunday afternoon, ending a long, contentious conflict that sparked a labor strike that canceled classes for nearly 4,300 students last week.
Students will be back in school Monday, after the long-sought deal was brokered between the Woburn Teachers’ Association and Mayor Scott Galvin along with the Woburn School Committee.
While the sides had reached tentative deals for Woburn’s teachers and paraprofessionals on Friday, a sticking point had been disagreement over whether the union should reimburse the city for $250,000 in costs incurred during the five-day strike.
On Sunday, the union agreed to pay most of that amount, according to Galvin.
“We’re very happy about it, we’re happy for the children, we’re happy to be moving on in the right direction,” Galvin told reporters in a brief press conference early Sunday evening.
Barbara Locke, the union’s president, hailed the agreement as an achievement for the city’s educators and the city. The Woburn Teachers’ Association represents about 550 teachers, nurses, and paraprofessionals.
“We claim victory, the WTA. We claim victory for a fair contract. And we claim victory for a unified community — one of transparency, integrity, and decency,” she told reporters in brief remarks after Galvin finished.
The mayor said details of the agreement will be released Monday. Both sides backed a memorandum of agreement for a deal, he said.
In broad terms, the two sides agreed to a four-year deal that will give teachers a 13.75 percent increase in pay and add 10 minutes to each school day, according to Galvin.
The average teacher salary is $85,000 in Woburn, Galvin and the School Committee have said. The paraprofessionals in Woburn have a base salary of $22,000.
Paraprofessionals will receive about a 40 percent pay raise over the life of the agreement, he said Sunday.
“We realized with the paras, it’s important to get the salaries up to be competitive” with other communities, Galvin said.
Woburn educators ratified the agreement Sunday night, according to Eric Scarsborough, a union spokesman.
The union’s strike began Jan. 30, after they failed to reach an agreement on a new contract following more than a year of talks. Galvin said the city’s costs due to the strike included police details, school lunches, and presenters for a professional development day canceled because of the work stoppage.
Following five hours of negotiation Sunday, the union agreed to pay the city the $225,000 in reimbursement over four years, according to Galvin. The union will also donate $20,000 to local charities.
Locke said the union agreed to pay the reimbursement in order to return to work.
“We want to go to school,” she said. “We conceded; we decided that the more important thing was to go to school.”
Teacher strikes are illegal in the state. On Wednesday, a Middlesex Superior Court judge ruled that the Woburn Teachers’ Association and Locke violated an earlier injunction that ordered them to end their strike and return to work.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is pushing for legislation that would allow educators and some other public sector workers to walk picket lines.
Locke has said the Woburn teachers union has gone into debt to pay $85,000 in fines since the strike began.
During the press conference, Galvin blamed the Massachusetts Teachers Association for the contentiousness surrounding the contract talks in Woburn.
“The MTA encourages locals to try to hijack and use the strike as a bargaining chip. And we weren’t falling for it,” Galvin said.
Max Page, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, spoke after Locke and blasted Galvin for his handling of the negotiations.
“This is a very, very small, small, petty individual who sits in that City Hall, facing incredibly righteous, idealistic public servants here,” Page told reporters.
Earlier in the day, Governor Maura Healey, speaking with WBZ-TV host Jon Keller, signaled she does not favor allowing public school teachers to walk picket lines.
When Keller asked Healey if she thought legalizing teacher strikes was a good idea, the governor replied, “I don’t.”
“Every day when I see kids out of school because of a strike, my heart just breaks because kids have been through enough in terms of learning loss and the like,” Healey told Keller.
Across the state, teachers unions embroiled in protracted contract negotiations have been able to reach agreements with their school districts following brief strikes, or votes by union members to walk picket lines.
In Woburn Sunday morning, several hundred teachers had rallied outside the Joyce Middle School to cheer on their negotiating team as they entered the building to attend the negotiating session.
Drivers passing by beeped their horns in support, and many union members and supporters held up signs that had messages like “Woburn educators on strike!” while waving at motorists.
Christy Nickerson, a second-grade teacher at the Altavesta Elementary School, said she has been overcome with emotion over the level of support she and other educators have received from the Woburn community during the strike.
“We really took a leap when we got into this,” Nickerson said. “I think that the community caught us and we are forever grateful for that.”
On Sunday afternoon, US Senator Edward J. Markey called for a “fair and equitable agreement” to be reached in Woburn.
“I am with educators and all who share a steadfast commitment to invest in students and their futures and who want to get back to school,” Markey said on Twitter. “I believe a fair and equitable agreement in Woburn can be reached, and I urge all stakeholders to finalize a deal for the sake of our students.”
I am with educators and all who share a steadfast commitment to invest in students and their futures and who want to get back to school. I believe a fair and equitable agreement in Woburn can be reached, and I urge all stakeholders to finalize a deal for the sake of our students.— Ed Markey (@EdMarkey) February 5, 2023
Following the rally, many teachers and demonstrators attended a bake sale fund-raiser that lasted nearly two hours on Woburn Common. A GoFundMe was set up to raise money to help the union; in about a week, it had raised more than $32,000.
Renee Prestia, 41, said she and many other Woburn parents have been demonstrating alongside the city’s educators.
“We are fully in support of teachers in their fight,” she said.
Prestia’s 9-year-old daughter, Avery, said she looked forward to being back in school with her teachers.
“We love our teachers,” Avery Prestia said. “We just want to keep on learning.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.