Contract discussions between Alexandria teachers and school officials were extended last week after the two groups failed to reach an agreement on teacher salaries.

Meeting publicly for the first time in the more than 10 weeks since talks began, teacher representatives last asked for salary increases ranging from 13.5 percent for first-year positions to 7.7 percent for top-level jobs. Coupled with automatic step increases, the proposal could raise some salaries more than 15 percent.

Starting salaries for Alexandria teachers currently are $12,453; under the teachers' proposal, that figure would be $14,145.

School administrators reacted to the proposed increases with warnings to be cautious.

"Even if we (administrators) were desirous to pay this amount, which we are not, the important question is whether it is viable," said school personnel specialist Tom Lo Faro, alluding to a city guideline asking all Alexandria agencies to limit budget increases for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, to 8 percent. Although unwilling to reveal a specific figure, school administrators indicated every attempt was being made to conform to the city limit.

Teacher salaries, which comprise more than 80 percent of the current $40 million school budget, have been a constant source of discontent for Alexandria teachers, who complain that their incomes are lower than those of teachers in neighboring jurisdictions. Under the proposed increases, second-year teachers in Alexandria would make $14,852, compared with $15,648 in Fairfax County, according to increases recently approved by the Fairfax school board.

"Nine years ago, it didn't make a difference where you taught. In fact, salaries in Alexandria were better. Now Arlington and Fairfax are far better off than we are," contended Val Martin, past president of the Education Association of Alexandria. "We're talking about competing for new teachers, but everyone seems to have abandoned the idea of cost-of-living increases."

In addition to the salary increases, teachers have asked for improved health and retirement benefits and additional pay for extra teaching duties.

Another contract discussion has been set for Monday.If an agreement is reached, the proposed budget is expected to be presented to the school board at a work session next Wednesday.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled Feb. 11 before the final board vote Feb. 23. The budget would then be sent to the City Council for approval.

Unless otherwise noted, all budget discussions are open to the public and will take place at the Minnie Howard School Administration Building, 3801 W. Braddock Rd.