WHEN A BUDGET CUT suddenly becomes the firing of a favorite classroom teacher -- or of half the faculty at a school -- a tax-paying parent's zeal for economy can swiftly give way to impassioned pleas for fiscal sympathy and the support of dedicated public servants. So it is in the District, where hundreds of teachers have been dismissed and hundreds more are about to be. Exactly how many of them will really be out come fall is not certain; but a good number will definitely go -- and should, because of lower enrollments and budget constraints. Still, the manner and extent of the sacrifice is important. The prospect is for massive classroom disruptions this fall. But there are some ways to cushion the blow.

In rare agreement on one method are Superintendent Vincent E. Reed and Washington Teachers Union President Willilam H. Simons. They support a plan that would eliminate two weeks of pay for all school employees; this, they estimate, could save the jobs of about 400 teachers. The idea would be to have five payless days during the December break and five more at the end of June, when school is out and teachers would be free to begin other summer work if they chose. If the cuts affected all school employees, presumably the jobs of some non-teaching school workers would be among those rescued.

The idea has appeal and it has problems. For emample, it would be a one-year move that would simply put off the fiscal agony without addressing it. It sould not be, nor does Mr. Simons want it to be, a unilateral decision; union members should have an opportunity to accept or reject such a plan, since it is bound to be felt more harshly by lower-paid employees. That was a strong argument against proposals for unpaid leave throughout the rest of the District government. At least in the case of teachers working a 10-month year, the payless periods might be adsorbed more easily.

Another proposal is to postpone the opening of school by a few weeks. That is a bad idea. The last thing the District's schoolchildren need is a reduction in their classroom hours. Whatever else is done to help out the teachers and reduce the staffing confusion, the classroom time should not be cut.

There is another measure that has support from the union and the superintendent -- and it is a good one: early retirement for those teachers who so choose. This would permit some of the more junior teachers who have been dismissed -- and this group includes many with six to eight years' service -- to return to their schools in September. The District Council should act on this legislation immediately -- before its summer break. It is not a matter simply of rescuing superfluous teachers for the sake of preserving a bureaucracy; continuity in each school is important to the students, and any sensible money-saving way to minimize this damage and disruption is worth pursuing.