During a packed meeting last week, the Fairfax Education Association approved a change that allows an association president to serve two successive terms. Previously, presidents had been limited to a one-year term.

The move, which required a constitutional amendment for the county's largest teachers' group, was hotly contested and required counters to go around the room to ensure that the measure had a two-thirds majority. The change was approved by the association's 300-member representative assembly and does not require confirmation by the 6,500 members of the association.

In the past, members each spring chose a president-elect who became president the following year. Under the new rules, members will choose a president and vice president, but the vice president will not necessarily become president.

Proponents of the move say the new rule will give the president more power, so that he or she can have more influence in developing long-range policies for the teachers' association.

Critics, however, said they feared the change would turn the presidency into a political office, forcing the executive into actions that may be politically appealing rather than good for the association.

FEA President Bill Costello said last week that he and past association presidents favored the amendment.

"I'm certainly in favor of the . . . (change)," Costello said. "It would provide a continuity in leadership . . . allowing the president to become familiar with and familiar to school officials, the membership and the media. . ."

The only stumbling block to the new rule may come from the school system. Under the present agreement between the FEA and Fairfax schools, the association president receives a year's leave of absence from teaching and the president-elect receives half a year off. The FEA pays both officers' regular teaching salary, and the school system agrees to find teaching positions for the officers at the end of their leaves.

FEA officials plan to ask the school system to allow a teacher up to 2 1/2 years' leave to serve as president and/or vice president of the association. Under the plan, a president would be granted up to 2 years' leave, while a vice president would receive 6 months' leave. FEA officials say they are asking for the 2 1/2-year leave in case a teacher serves consecutive terms as vice president and president.

FEA officials say they are discussing the change with school administrators in the course of annual negotiations over wages and working conditions.

FEA spokesman Barby Halstead said last week the FEA expects the school system to approve the change because it is "not something which affects large numbers of teachers."