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Despite stress and echoes of COVID closures, many Woburn parents say they support teacher strikes

A teachers’ strike that has closed Woburn public school classrooms for three days — and counting — has largely found support among parents, though they’ve had to cope with work-related complications with no school.

While expressing some frustration at the impasse, many parents in the Greater Boston suburb embrace the striking educators’ arguments: that higher wages for educators and classroom support staff will improve the schools, and that city officials are chiefly responsible for the slow pace of negotiations.

“This has been a long time coming,” Mary Paris, the mother of two children in the school system, said of the strike.

The Woburn Teachers Association, which represents 550 educators, has pushed for higher pay for paraprofessionals, extra planning time for teachers, two days of physical education a week for elementary grades and a cost-of-living adjustment for teachers.

The average annual teacher pay in Woburn is around $85,000, while the starting salary for a paraprofessional is $22,621.

The union so far has failed to reach a deal with Woburn city leaders, resulting in school closures since Monday for roughly 4,500 students.

The last Woburn teachers’ contract expired in August 2021. Since that time, educators have stood outside after-school hours holding signs to raise awareness they were working without a contract, said Paris.

Paris' two children, who are in the third and eighth grades, have made signs in support of their teachers and attended rallies outside schools with her. She said the experience may be “the best civics lesson they ever receive.”

But still, Paris says, the last few days have been “stressful” and “confusing” — and eerily reminiscent of school days during the height of COVID-19. “Every day when they ask, ‘Are we going back to school tomorrow?,’ I don’t know the answer to that question,” Paris, a human relations professional who works from home, said.

So far, school closures have been announced late in the evening after negotiations end for the day. As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, there were no signs that a deal had been reached.

Woburn teachers strike in front of Woburn Memorial High School on Jan. 30. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Woburn teachers strike in front of Woburn Memorial High School on Jan. 30. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Tanya Valverde, a mother of four kids in the schools, has concerns about the educational losses of this week, on top of COVID-related learning setbacks from the past several years.

Her family has taken in the daughter of a friend who works during the day, making for what she called an impromptu “mini-vacation” for the kids.

But Valverde — who works as a substitute teacher in the district, and is not covered by the union — says she would like the kids back in school. “They are happy, like I said, but … I think they need that [school-based] socialization.”

Other parents have experienced work-related conflicts this week due to the lack of school.

Andrew Regan, who has a kindergartener in the schools and two other children under age five, says the strike-related closure does “bring the stress level up” in his home. But Regan added that any inconvenience to his family "is greatly outweighed by the cause of the teachers in the past and what they're fighting for.”

Mounting frustration

Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin spoke briefly to reporters Tuesday night, saying that he and taxpayers are “extremely frustrated that the inconvenience continues for their children.”

He said that the city had offered a 10.75% raise for teachers and a 40% raise for paraprofessionals over three years of the contract. That would bring the starting salary for paraprofessionals to over $31,500 by the end of the contract in 2026.

He said city leaders in return asked for the extension of the school day by 10 minutes.

Galvin on Tuesday called the city’s current proposal “very fair.” The teachers' union rejected the terms.

Some Woburn parents are showing some signs of mounting frustration with the negotiating impasse — but many see Galvin himself as a driving force behind it.

Valverde said she has voted for Galvin in the past, saying she likes his “no-nonsense” approach as a six-term mayor. “But I mean, it doesn't seem like he's bending at all [here],” Valverde said.

Galvin has touted the city’s AAA bond rating during his tenure as mayor, and his skill as a fiscal manager. When he introduced this year’s budget last May, Galvin called it “lean” and designed to cement the city’s “strong financial position.” He also noted that it included a $3 million increase in state aid to the district.

The stalemate over raising teacher pay seems contradictory to Valverde, who notes that the city seems to be on the upswing. “[Woburn Mall] was like an empty remnant 10 years ago, and now it’s this flourishing base of restaurants and condos… I honestly believe that the money can be spent,” she said.


Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Education
Max Larkin is an education reporter.



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