It Is Time for Education Reform, Part Two

By Carol Tye

The opening day of school in the Revere Public Schools this year was smooth and uneventful.

Not so 30 years ago – that was the year of the strike.

Ever since the Collective Bargaining Act had passed in 1965, the Revere Teachers Association had a history of conflict with various School Committees in the effort to settle contracts. It had taken almost two years to complete negotiations for the first Collective Bargaining Agreement, and subsequent ones were not much easier. There was never enough money to go around.

But in 1987, members of the RTA let it be known that they were tired of picketing every year.

It was demeaning. They believed that giving elementary teachers preparation (now called common planning) time, decreasing class size, and increasing salaries was required by their sense of justice.

On Sept. 4 and 7 (Labor Day) 1987, the RTA and the School Committee met with a State mediator to try to complete negotiations and avert a strike.

Because no agreement was reached, the RTA demonstrated their resolve by a march at 9 a.m. on the 8th, the day before school was to open. That night the two parties settled into an all-night session at the RHS library; but no agreement was reached.

So at 6 AM on September 9, teachers met at the Moose Hall on Broadway and began a three-day strike. It was one of the saddest days of my life.

There were several other teacher unions who had gone on strike during that turbulent period; the issues were complicated, but no matter how we looked at it, the crux of it all was money. In Revere, the raise would cost money, and there would certainly be an expense to hiring more teachers to reduce class size and to cover classes during preparation time.

And Revere, like all other communities, was having a difficult time providing city services in the era after Proposition 2½ prevailed. Then, as now, cities and towns cannot bear the burden of funding education.

Our state constitution is responsible for education in the Commonwealth. Finally the state accepted that responsibility and passed the Education Reform Act. With it came much needed accountability… and money.  Thanks to Sen. Tom Birmingham.

I was fortunate when I became superintendent; I could replace subjects that had been cut –emblems of our civilization: art, music, theater- and gradually we could decrease class size. There was summer school and evening school and free after-school programs.

Thus we could become “the BUDS – the Best Urban District in the State.”

However, without an infusion of state funding, we are gradually losing ground.

Now we need the State to accept its responsibility again. Our population and our class size increase each year. We need Education Reform, Part II.

Last year we lost the funding for 2,227 children, and without Speaker DeLeo’s advocacy, we would have lost all the progress that we have made since Ed Reform I. Obviously we need changes in the funding formula.

There will continue to be unrest throughout our state without a new Ed Reform. We need a renewed commitment to the public schools, the entity which is the personification of our democracy, a form of government that cannot exist without an educated population, a population that for generations has been taught what it means to be an American by dedicated teachers in our public schools. Our children – everybody’s children – are counting on us. We are counting on an Education Reform II.

Note: There are only seven teachers who participated in the strike who are still teaching.

Most are happy in retirement; sadly some have passed, including the teacher who dedicated his life to the children in the RPS, and who served as president of the RTA for over 30 years, Richard I. Champa.

Memories from retired teachers:

Evelyn Morris, second vice-president of the RTA: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…  I still get a little sick when I pass the Moose.”

“My favorite memory was Richard Champa’s  hiring a plane to circle the skies of Revere with a banner announcing: WILL WE GO BACK TO SCHOOL?”

“It was a time that my wife and I remember well.  My new bride had just found out she was pregnant.  She had been hired just a few days before.  She was walking the picket line with her sign. She was already on strike and hadn’t worked a day yet.  She wondered if there would be retribution for her being on the picket line.  I told her that not a hair on anybody’s head would be touched or nobody would go back to work.  It was far from a sad time, but a time of great courage and sacrifice by each teacher who risked their job on the picket line.”

“We remember Richard Champa and how he without the slightest hesitation said he would rather go to jail than to surrender.  I believe he stated that his bags were packed just in case he was imprisoned.”

“I remember the families who joined the picket line supporting the Revere teachers of their children.”

“I remember the days of walking. I was very much against striking, but yet wanted to help support our needs. I also didn’t want to walk because I was 4 months pregnant and would have preferred being in my home because of morning sickness.  But in the end, we all came through it and 5 months later I had my beautiful daughter.”

“I remember hosting a sign-making party at my home. We were so passionate about our cause! It was a huge step for some of us to participate, but we believed, had great unity and were willing to take a public stand! It was a worthy experience!”

“I was so looking forward to coming back to school after my maternity leave with my second son. I had enlisted my baby sitter to watch the boys and trudged down to picket at the Beachmont School. It was a great bonding event. The next morning, we took the vote at the Moose Hall on Broadway and began the 3-day strike.  It was so depressing to have to strike, but we were not left with an alternative. When the chips were down, the families of the students were very supportive.  People in Beachmont even offered to let the teachers use their bathrooms in their homes as we could not enter the schools.”

“Even though the strike was such an awful event, I felt that it made our union much stronger and the families of our students were so kind and compassionate.  Sometimes an awful event brings out the best in people.”

“Although a teachers’ strike is not something that I wanted, I believe in supporting my union.  Also, I always loved teaching.”

“My vmost vivid memory of that event was when a constable came to my home very late at night and served me papers. I was being threatened with arrest because I was a union officer conducting an illegal strike. The pounding on the door woke my young children and frightened them. To my shock, the constable was a former student of mine from the old Liberty School. He asked if I remembered him and then served me papers. I know he was only doing his job, but I knew him and his family. I had tutored him in his home. I attended his bar mitzvah. It was kind of sad.”

“It certainly was quite an experience I am sure none of us wanted to have.  I have clear memories of being chosen picket line leader. My father would have been so proud since he believed in unions fighting for what they want and deserve. There was a new principal at the  Paul Revere, and I had to go in and tell him there would be no school.  He shook my hand and said good luck.  It did not last long, but it worked.”

“I had just signed an agreement with the contractor to gut and remodel my kitchen and bathroom. When I called him and told him that I wouldn’t be able to begin, he said, “Don’t worry. I’m a union guy, too. You’ll go back to work and pay me then.” Thank goodness the strike didn’t last that long.”

“I remember that morning quite well. I was asked to make the motion to go on strike. Nervously, I stood and made the motion, and it was seconded loudly. It was unanimous with one exception. My wife and I looked at each other when we arrived home, both wondering how we were going to live. “

“I can’t believe it’s been 30 years since the strike – in some ways, it seems like yesterday!”

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