Washington school officials, faced with a decline in enrollment and a cut in teaching jobs, hope several dozen teachers will retire during the next 10 days to take advantage of a new increase in pension benefits.

"We're just holding our breaths every day," said Claudette Helms, the school system's personnel director.

The U.S. sweetener that might bring more retirements is a 5.9 per cent cost-of-living pension increase, announced last week and effective Sept. 1, for all retired teachers and their survivers.

However, under the law that grants the automatic increase, a teachers can't get it unless they retire by the day before it goes into effect.

For those who wait longer, pensions will be set by the regular formula, based on years of service and final salary. They can't get any supplement until the next cost-of-living increase, which might not come along for another year.

"No one is forcing anyone to do anything," said George Harrod, director of the city's personnel office, which administers the pension program. "But if they do retire, it would definitely be to their advantage of others who need jobs and do not have the opportunity to retire."

Harrod said the pension-check increases will go to about 1,300 survivers of police officers and firefighters, as well as to the 2,500 retired teachers and their survivers already in the retirement system.

Overall, the boost will cost the city about $2 million a year, but the exact amount depends on the number of new retirees.

Over the past three years, the number of D.C. school employees has dropped by about 1,000 including about 500 teachers, as enrollment has fallen sharply. But until now retirements and resignations have accounted for almost all of the reduction, and only about 20 employees have been laid off.

However, Mrs. Helms said yesterday that the school system still has about 50 to 75 more teachers than jobs for the fall term. She said she hopes enough older teachers will retires to allow all the younger ones to stay employed.

Under union contracts, most-recently hired teachers are the first to be laid off.