New York City so far has laid out nearly $21 million to get kids to class during the school bus strike, but the impasse will save the city $80 million in the long run, the schools chancellor said Monday.

During the monthlong strike, which ends Wednesday as 8,000 school bus drivers get back to work, the city doled out big bucks for free student MetroCards and mileage reimbursements for parents. Despite that price tag, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Monday that opening up the contracts for bids would save money. "I made clear from the start of this process, bidding out these contracts was not only good for our school system, but important for our city and taxpayers," he said.

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The MetroCards will be deactivated Wednesday as classes resume and buses get rolling again, and Walcott said the city would continue to accept reimbursement forms from parents until the end of the month.

School bus workers from Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union went on strike Jan. 16 after the city failed to include employee protection provisions in its bids for 1,100 school bus contracts, which haven't been issued since 1979.

Michael Cordiello, the union's president, said the provision guaranteed job security for experienced drivers. Although the union voted to suspend the strike, Cordiello continued to criticize the mayor and said he'd work with Michael Bloomberg's successor to meet his workers' needs. "In January when Mayor Bloomberg is gone, we are comfortable that his entire scheme will be rejected," Cordiello said.

The chancellor, however, said the city pays more than $1 billion a year on school bus service, and the bids would cut the costs without any sacrifices. Walcott said that during the work stoppage, the city saved $80 million by not paying the striking workers.

"It is important for me to emphasize that these contracts will include all the same safety requirements as the current ones -- contrary to what has been misstated," Walcott said.