Contract discussions between Alexandria teachers and school officials got under way last week and are expected to continue through December.

Although formal contract negotiations and collective bargaining are banned by Virginia law, teacher representatives and school administrators said salary increases and working conditions are among the major issues to be discussed during the meetings.

The two sides are not bound to reach an agreement, but each side indicated optimism that a consensus could be reached on several major points before recommendations are presented to the full school board in January.

"I'm quite optimistic that we will come near our goals," said John Raiford, president of the Education Association of Alexandria (EAA), which represents 665 of about 750 Alexandria teachers. "We were relatively successful last year and our working relationship with the school board -- which has always been good -- hasn't changed."

The head of the administrative delegation, assistant superintendent John DuVall, expressed similar confidence.

"I don't foresee any major problems," DuVall said. "We may not always be in full agreement, but I don't think we will ever be in serious disagreement." i

One reason for his confidence, DuVall said, is the school board's "no layoffs" policy. DuVall said board members decided two years ago that if budget cutbacks or school closings forced them to trim school services, the trims would be made in areas other than the teaching staff. The only exception, DuVall said, would be in the case of severe budget problems, which have not occurred so far.

"The board felt it would be better for the kids to have teachers concerned about instruction, rather than whether they had jobs or not," he said.

While DuVall and Raiford were unwilling to discuss specifics of the talks, DuVall expects the discussions to focus on a review of salaries, benefits and teacher personnel policies. Personnel polices include working conditions, transfers, promotions and teacher assignments.

Last year, the first time established talks were conducted since the court ban in 1977, teachers received a 14.5 percent raise (they had asked for 18 percent). Although Raiford would not reveal the pay hike teachers would request, he said teachers expect to seek a higher increase than last year.

Three meetings have been scheduled through November: Nov. 12, 17 and 24. The meetings are not open to the public.