Fifty years ago this month, the school year began like no other. Teachers immediately declared war with the School Committee over pay. They went on strike in late September. Who taught the students? Substitutes, parents and even other students. Four teachers went to jail for violating a court order banning the strike. Burlington parents amassed 2,500 signatures on a petition calling for all striking teachers to be fired. Two weeks after the strike began, the town finally reached a settlement with the Burlington Educators Association. The starting salary moved from $7,500 per year to $7,909.
“Inconsequential,” says participant Peter Macione, now with a half-century of hindsight. All that angst over a few hundred dollars? Not worth it, he says. “The strike was probably the single most unpleasant experience of my life, or at least in teaching. You’d park your car in front of a School Committee person’s house. It was very unpleasant. Some guys really enjoyed it. They were aggressive people. My wife particularly was miserable over it. She did it, but was not very happy at all. I did it because I supported our cause, but I would never participate in something like that again.”
These four went to the Billerica House of Correction for a week, for defying a court order that banned the strike:
- Jay Rutkowski
- James Long
- Chester McLaughlin
- Louis Intoppa
Macione visited them in the slammer. “They didn’t get abused, but it wasn’t a very pleasant thing. Jay’s wife brought a pie, but they immediately confiscated it. Everybody thought that was the funniest thing in the world, but it’s true that people have concealed knives and stuff inside pies.”
If the high school in these images looks like Marshall Simonds Middle School, that’s because it was indeed the high school at the time. This was the final year of high school in that building. The prospect of moving to the new, bigger high school is really what prompted the strike, according to one striker, speaking anonymously. Teachers feared they would be saddled with more work, especially bigger class sizes, for the same old pay.
Anne Brenton’s mother was on the School Committee. “It was Mom’s first term. A busload of teachers picketed in front of the house several times over a period of a few weeks. All us neighborhood kids were perched on our stone wall and watched them as they walked up and down the street holding signs and chanting. I remember we were irritated because it interrupted our games of flag football, soccer and kickball. Also a bomb threat was called into the police station, so we had to evacuate our house so they could search it. This happened to all the School Committee members. It was a nasty time with the teachers union, and Mom was convinced that there were nefarious Boston characters influencing the union.”
Pamela Nazzaro was a BHS student at the time — when she showed up, that is. She skipped a lot of classes, sometimes to help out a the House of Common, the town’s community counseling center. Other times, she admits, she simply didn’t want to go to school. “After the strike was over, the high school called an evening meeting with me and my parents. My father, who was very strict, met at the guidance office. I was terrified. They asked me why I had skipped so many times. Kids knew I worked at the House of Common and wanted to talk to me there. So I would sometimes skip to talk to them. So my father said, ‘My daughter had something she felt was important, so she skipped.’ They said, ‘Well that is not acceptable.’ My father said, ‘Well, why did you go on strike? You set the example.’ They said it was for something they believed in. He said, ‘Well, that’s why my daughter skipped class, for something SHE believed in.’ When we left the school that night, I was relieved and could not believe what had just happened. In the car I said, ‘Wow, Dad, that was so cool.’ He replied, ‘I am not done with you yet,’ and he wasn’t. I got punished, but I loved the way my Dad had my back.”
Cindy Arthur Bocrie was attending Francis Wyman Junior High (now an elementary school). She was only 13, but she was allowed to help her mother, a substitute teacher at Fox Hill Elementary. One incident stood out: “I had a very glamorous 23-year-old cousin who also came in to help. I remember one of the little boys trying to write a note to her and asking his friend how to spell ‘sexy.’ It was fun for a couple of days, but then there were some reports of violence, and things got more tense. My father said he didn’t think any of us should go any more. I don’t remember my mother being scared, but she might not have shared that with us kids.”
Dave Bushee, a BHS student at the time, says it wasn’t all bad. “During the strike, the first day, some of us found out where they were hanging and went and joined them.” They were hanging out at the bar in the Holiday Inn on Wheeler Road (now the Hilton Garden Inn).
The teachers’ union ran newspaper ads showing the home phone numbers of School Committee members (redacted by Burlington Retro).
Meanwhile, the town prepared for the new high school on Cambridge Street by approving smoking in the building. This was later banned by the state.
First National Supermarket, also known as Finast, opened at Winn and Cambridge Streets, near the current Shaw’s supermarket.
The former Kemp’s Hamburgers location was about to become a recreational trailer store called Donahue Trailer. Full Donahue Furniture/Trailer story here.
The town refused to plow Lord Baron:
Dialing back the time machine ANOTHER 50 years, here’s the big news in September 1922. Maybe the buyer was a young Stylianos Rahanis?