Students and teachers returned to classrooms in Woburn Monday, bringing an end to the longest educator work stoppage in a recent wave of teacher strikes around Greater Boston.
Schools reopened after a Sunday deal put an end to the five-day strike that canceled classes for nearly 4,300 students last week. The strike followed a long, contentious conflict between the Woburn Teachers Association and the city’s School Committee and Mayor Scott Galvin.
The union won pay increases for teachers and paraprofessionals in the district but came at a financial cost. Teacher strikes are illegal in Massachusetts and a judge found the union violated an order to return to work. The educator group went into debt to pay $85,000 in fines since the strike began. After pushback against having to reimburse the city, the union also agreed to pay the city the $225,000 over four years to reimburse strike costs and donate $20,000 to local charities. A strike fund set up for the union had raised $40,000 as of Monday.
Under the new agreement, Woburn teacher pay will increase 13.75 percent over a four-year period, starting with an immediate 3.5 percent raise, according to details on the contract released Monday. Paraprofessionals will get an additional $3,000 this year and then see their pay increase by 10.25 percent over four years. The deal also raises pay for the most junior employees in both roles by removing the bottom two rungs from the salary schedules.
Prior to the agreement, the average teacher salary was $85,000 in Woburn, almost exactly the state average, according to the most recent state data, which is for the 2019-2020 school year. Salaries in neighboring communities ranged from significantly lower — $69,000 in Melrose — to substantially higher — over $100,000 in Burlington.
The paraprofessionals in Woburn had a base salary of $22,000.
The deal also adds 10 minutes in instructional time to the Woburn school day starting in the fall. Teachers and students also must make up the instructional time they missed while schools were closed.
The Woburn strike followed ones by educators in Haverhill, Malden, and Brookline, all in the last year, and came amid a push from the Massachusetts Teachers Association for legislation that would allow educators and some other public sector workers to walk picket lines. But the same day that the deal was reached in Woburn, Governor Maura Healey, speaking with WBZ-TV host Jon Keller, signaled she would not support a bill to legalize teacher strikes.
“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.
On Monday morning, families were just excited to be back in school. Outside Malcolm White Elementary, a handful of children, bundled up for the cold, chatted with friends as they waited for the doors to open. Kids pulled parents by the hand as they rushed to the school and urged siblings to hurry up getting out of the car.
“Oh, my God, I’ve been like, when are they going to let us be back in school?” said 10-year-old Riley Stanley as she waited to go in. “I’m happy to see my teachers.” Parent Miguel Juarez said his 7-year-old son, Anthony, also was happy to return.
“He loves school. He missed school,” Juarez said. “Class is very important for the students, but the teachers deserve it.... I am with the teachers 100 percent. They work very hard for our kids.”
The union and city leaders said both sides had reached tentative deals for Woburn’s teachers and paraprofessionals on Friday, but was not finalized until the union relented and agreed to reimburse the city in strike costs that included police details, school lunches, and paying presenters for a professional development day that was canceled because of the strike.
“We’re very happy about it, we’re happy for the children, we’re happy to be moving on in the right direction,” Mayor Scott Galvin said Sunday.
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, paraprofessionals, and nurses.
“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 said Sunday.
The union’s strike began Jan. 30, after the city and educators failed to reach an agreement on a new contract following more than a year of talks.
Despite the challenges that closed schools presented for families, many Woburn parents said they sided with striking teachers, rallying alongside the educators throughout last week. Several publicly blamed the delay in coming to an agreement on the mayor and the School Committee.
Frank Zizzo, grandparent of a kindergartner and fourth-grader at Malcolm White, said he was glad students were back in school. “It was much too long,” he said Monday morning.
He and his wife, as well as his daughter’s friends, all pitched in to help with child care.
“At first [the grandkids] were like, ‘We got a day off school!’ but as the week went on, they got bummed,” Zizzo said. “The mayor and the School Committee did wrong by them. It was ridiculous.”
Christopher Huffaker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @huffakingit.