IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA there is an organization called The Black Student Fund. It has a board of trustees that is composed of Washington socialities, politicians and social activists -- good, nice people all. Their original aim, reaffirmed in their current brochure, is to "recruit promising black students" and send them to private schools. The honorary chairman, would you believe, is none other than the mayor.

He should be be a smashing success in his new role.Thanks to the budget he has submitted, something like 700 Washington teachers have been laid off and with them has gone any hope of improving the Washington schools. The mayor might have two roles here, but he is in no conflict of interest.

I suppose it's a bit of a cheap shot to critize the mayor for being the honorary chairman of a fund-raising benefit. He probably thought he was doing the nice thing for a nice organization that has been around since 1964 and that, judging from its board, is well thought of in both the black and the white community.

But the salvation of most black children in Washington -- smart black kids and not-so-smart black kids and in between black kids -- is not what the Black Student Fund euphemistically calls "independent" schools, but an improvement in the public school system. It is the same for white children - bright, dumb and indifferent.

It is these schools that have taken it on the chin. It is these schools that are still reeling from the budget cuts by more than $75 million -- and that in the face of inflation. It is these schools that have lost teachers and books, and after-hour programs. It is these schools where the staffs have been thrown into some sort of bureaucratic Mixmaster -- where fifth grade teachers teach second grade and where regular classroom teachers teach specialized programs. It is these schools where seniority rules -- where good, even terrific teachers, have been given the ax.

The reason for this is the mayor's budget, and while it would simplify matters a lot to hold him solely reponsible for what has happened, that is just not the case. The City Council has played a role and so has that joke of a school board, a disgrace to this city and a rebuff to the very notion that the popular election of public officials is a good idea.

Congress has been no angel, either. It, too, has cut the school budget -- something it would not allow to happen to the police budget. The Congress is more afraid of crime than it is of the causes of that crime -- ignorance, lack of education, no hope. It coddles the police department whose chief seems to spend more time out of the city -- in Mexico, California, Taiwan -- than he does in Washington. I don't know what he learns abroad, but I can't blame him for staying away. It can be dangerous here.

What's sad is that the school system was coming back. Maybe it's just my perception based on having a child in the system, but it was looking better and better. The test scores were improving -- nothing to write home about maybe, but then for the first time the kids could actually write home. You have to start somewhere.

Maybe the cops are more important than the schools. Surely a community dies when public safety cannot be assured. But just as surely it dies when its schools do. The middle class -- the fiber of any city -- has to leave when it cannot educate its children. It will go where the schools are. It will go to Prince George's County or Montgomery County or Virginia. The rich will stay and send their kids to private schools and the poor will stay. The poor have to stay.

It would be nice if the mayor would resign from this committee -- not because it is not a worthy cause, but because it suggests that for many black kids, their only chance of getting a quality education is to leave the public school system and go to a private school. It that is the case, it is a scandal, and if it is the case, the mayor ought to dedicate himself and his administration to making sure that bright kids -- black, white, yellow, purple, who cares? -- can attend Washington's public schools.

The mayor ought to have beaten the drums for the academic high school, for academic excellence, for a budget that will at least keep pace with inflation -- for a school system that would be able to look other school systems in the eye and say, with pride, that it's not, like some deprived nation, sending its bright pupils anywhere. They ought to be able to stay in the public schools. It's where they belong.

It's the school board that ought to be sent out of town.