It is lunch hour Saturday and the bunnies in the Playboy casino are having a tough time carrying their trays of cocktails through a crowd of slot-machine-entranced men sporting blue lapel badges.

"Conventions," mumbles one bunny with a knowing shake of her head to another.

In Atlantic City last weekend, it was convention time again--specifically, the American Association of School Administrators convention--and among the over 17,000 blue-lapeled school officials and their spouses on hand were a few from Northern Virginia.

In fact, there, striding into the grand ballroom of the Atlantic City Convention Center was none other than Arlington County school superintendent Charles E. Nunley, who has been attending AASA conferences since 1959.

"Hi there, how are you?" he boomed, greeting old buddies from Ohio while a high school steel band swung into a rendition of "Yellow Bird."

To Nunley and others there from Northern Virginia, including Alexandria's Dr. Robert W. Peebles, Prince William County's Richard Johnson, Falls Church's Dr. Warren Pace, and Fairfax County's Dr. William Burkholder, it is worth it, no question about it.

"This is the biggest conference of its kind in the world and it's an excellent chance to talk with people with similar problems," said Nunley.

The cost is not insubstantial for the four-day conference, which cost $165 per registrant plus hotel room (about $130 a night) and board. Nunley, as did all of the Northern Virginia administrators who attended the AASA conference, drew funds from a special travel budget to finance the three days he spent at the conference.

Pace sees the convention as an annual opportunity to renew his enthusiasm for the job.

On Saturday afternoon, for instance, Pace, who has attended AASA conferences since 1972, cruised an exhibit show of school products on the floor of the main convention hall, a maze of mechanical bleachers, the newest chalk boards, rotating computers and gymnastics equipment.

"I find this refreshing--rejuvenating," said Pace, pausing to test out a computer keyboard. "I return feeling like I've been exposed to new ideas and trends. I'm ready to make a fresh start."

Some administrators from smaller districts complained their constituents were uneasy about sending them to Atlantic City, a place where slot machines roll night and day and where a casino doctor said the most common problem he treats are the injuries suffered by people who have been hit by stray roulette balls.

But Northern Virginia educators report no such qualms.

Fairfax County, for instance, not only sent superintendent William Burkholder but another five school officials as well to the conference this year.

"It is definitely worth it," said Burkholder at a 7:30 a.m. breakfast of scrambled eggs for Virginia administrators in Caesar's Palace. "We take this conference seriously."

Not so seriously, though, that he wasn't able to find the time amidst all the meetings and seminars with titles like "Should School Boards be Elected or Appointed?" and "Improving Instruction through Mastery Learning and Outcome Based Management" to taste some of the tempting delights of Atlantic City.

"Well, maybe I'll skip the AASA Neil Sedaka concert tonight and try my hand at a few slot machines," said Burkholder, breaking into his first smile of the morning.

But then he added, "I'll only put in a few dollars, though."