CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 17: Striking Chicago public school teachers attend a press conference by The Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign outside the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel in City Hall on September 17, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. More than 26,000 teachers and support staff walked off the job on September 10 after the Chicago Teachers Union failed to reach an agreement with the city on compensation, benefits and job security. With about 350,000 students, the Chicago school district is the third largest in the United States. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The financial ramifications of the teacher strike remain a big question as Chicago Public Schools students and teachers returned to class Wednesday after seven days of picketing over a still-tentative union contract.
Parents called the return a "big stress relief" and a smiling Mayor Rahm Emanuel said taxpayers emerged from the strike as winners, paying less than they did in previous contracts and getting more for their kids.
"This is an exciting day for the city of Chicago," Emanuel said Wednesday at Frederic Chopin Elementary School, "most exciting because our kids are back and you can see it in their eyes."
How much will the new contract cost? Pay raises and hiring nearly 500 new teachers to implement the longer school day has a higher price tag -- as high as $295 million -- that some say could lead to higher property taxes.
The mayor, though, avoided specifics.
"We have other tough things to do," he told reporters. "I never denied that we did have tough things to do, but I can't sit here and say within the first five minutes of this contract being negotiated, that I could tell you exactly what's going to happen four or five months from now."
Chicago Public Schools said "all options are on the table" to make up for new money being spent. Teachers won a 3 percent raise in the first year followed by 2 percent raises in years two and three. The 2015 board must let the union know if it has the money for a fourth year 4 percent raise.
Teachers lost sick day payouts, severance adjustments and reduced layoff benefits. Ten holidays were reduced to eight.
Without pension relief, CPS could be looking at a deficit of up to $1 billion.
Emanuel reportedly is considering increases to the city's 68-cent-a-pack cigarette tax and the 9 percent amusement tax as a way to make up for the budget shortfall. His office has maintained he is not considering property tax hikes.
And now, with the strike done, the mayor's focus will shift to other issues, including talks with police and fire unions whose contracts aren't finished.
"We've been in discussions with the firefighters and other unions in the law enforcement community," he said.