About 2,000 D.C. teachers signed petitions recently supporting a National Education Association campaign to oust the American Federation of Teachers as their official bargaining unit, NEA organizers said yesterday.

The petitions, submitted last week to the District's Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) are more than enough to force an election, allowing the 5,700 city teachers to choose which union should represent them.

A PERB spokesman said that an election will not be ordered until all of the signatures are validated -- a process that will take several weeks.

Before D.C. teachers won the right to collective bargaining in 1967, the NEA represented them. The AFT Washington affiliate, the Washington Teachers Union, defeated the NEA to become the official bargaining unit.

William Simons, 60, who led the AFT campaign and became president of the WTU, still has that position, having survived several serious challenges in recent years.

James D. Ricks, 42, a high school teacher who has tried repeatedly to defeat Simons, took a leave of absence last spring to become a paid organizer for the NEA. He now heads the organization's effort to oust the AFT.

In a recent interview, NEA President Mary Futrell said it took "about a year" for NEA organizers to collect enough signatures to challenge the AFT. "I think that when they compare the services and programs that we have to offer, I think they will find that they are superior," she said.

"Education in the city is still basically in the pits and the union has played no role in trying to improve it," said Ricks, who had taught chemistry at Ballou High School. The WTU "once was more aggressive, but now it just goes along with the school system," he said.

Ricks said Simons "doesn't protect anybody. He just stays there and collects dues. He has such a good relationship with the school superintendent Floretta McKenzie that they kind of protect each other."

Simons, who was not available for comment yesterday, is being challenged for the presidency of the WTU this year by Harold Fisher, 47, who served as his top aide for almost a decade.

Ricks said the local NEA affiliate submitted 1,968 signature cards last Thursday to the board, amounting to 34.5 percent of the employes in the bargaining unit now represented by the WTU. A minimum of 30 percent of the unit, or 1,711, must sign cards to force an election.

Nationally, the NEA, founded in 1857, has 1.7 million members. It represents teachers in all major school systems in the Washington suburbs.

The AFT, founded in 1916, is affiliated with AFL-CIO and has 610,000 members. It represents teachers in most big cities.