The Falls Church City School Board broke with tradition last month when it voted to begin discharging teachers regardless of their length of service in the school system.

Although the board had planned to implement the new policy this year, protests from teachers have forced the board to delay the plan until 1982.

Despite the reprieve, teachers say they still are angry about the new policy. Al Krueger, president of the local teachers association, contended that the move could only hurt the quality of education in Falls Church in spite of the school board's contentions that it must find a way to save money.

"What do you want? Do you want experience or do you want to save money? Krueger asked.

The small school system began laying off teachers several years ago as its enrollment began to decline, a problem that has plagued all area school districts in recent years. In the last decade, Falls Church has suffered one of the largest enrollment declines in the area. School enrollment there has decreased by almost half, from a peak of 2,000 in 1970 to 1,100 this fall, and enrollment in the lower grades indicates the problem will get much worse before getting better.

As the need for new teachers declined in Falls Church, the city found itself with an increasingly older -- and consequently more expensive -- faculty. Some school officials estimate that more than 50 percent of Falls Church's teachers are at the top of the school system's pay scale. With the ever-spiraling cost of school operations -- energy, salaries and maintenance -- the school board decided to save money through several drastic measures, including cutting some educational programs and releasing teachers -- from the top of the pay scale, if necessary. p

After a lengthy debate and strong protests from the Falls Church Education Association, the school board voted to consider "essential services" provided by educators when deciding which teachers to lay off.

Teacher association members say essential services basically means one thing -- coaching -- and that teachers who coach will be the last to be dismissed.

"Well, that's sort of a dirty word," says School Board Chairman Betty Cesnik, who admits that coaching would be "just one of many services a teacher would perform."

Cesnik says a new teacher certified in several subjects would be considered more essential than a longtime Falls Church teacher with certification in just one subject. And of course, a young teacher who was able to coach an athletic team would be more valuable than an older teacher who did not coach.

But teachers argue that the tradition of laying off newcomers is valid and say the new policy of dismissing teachers regardless of seniority is destroying morale at the city's George Mason High School.

"How are they going to decide who's essential?" asks Education Association President Krueger, a biology teacher and tennis coach at Falls Church. "This scares the hell out of us.

"To be essential, what do I have to do? Do I have to coach?" Krueger asked. "What about the older teachers who have never coached, and don't want to?"

Adding to the teachers' anger is the feeling that they are helpless to do anything about the new plan.

"We can't bargain, we can't do anything," says Krueger disgustedly.

In light of the teachers' protests, however, the school board did make one concession. Board members promised that this year's 14 full or partial layoffs would be based on seniority alone.

"At first, I think the teachers were not happy at all about this," reflects Cesnik. "We were endangering their security.

"But now . . . the teachers seem relieved with the decision -- at least they know where they stand."

Education Association President Krueger does not agree.

"I think a lot of the teachers are still numb," Krueger says sadly.

"You know, I used to tell everyone that the Falls Church school system was the best around . . . now I'm not so sure anymore."