WITH THE DISTRICT public school system at last showing some signs for improvement - in management and in the classrooms - nothing could be more damaging than a teachers strike.Yet to dismiss the strength of intentions of the teachers union membership, or merely to point to a clause in the expired contract that bars a strike is unrealistic; there are serious questions to be resolved at the bargaining table as soon as possible. Unlike teacher contract negotiations elsewhere, salaries are not at issue, for they are set by the City Council. On both sides, the concern is about work rules and standards for evaluating teachers.

But even those concerns were being overshadowed by approcedural dispute that was stalling any negotiations. The school board had been insisting that negotiations not resume without a limit on the amount of time teacher-negotiators could spend out of the classroom. The union, arguing that this should be handled as part of negotiations, announced plans for a strike on Wednesday.

There has now been some movement on this question, but the possibility of a strike remains - and all the other issues still need to be resolved. The danger remains, too, that negotiators may continue to threaten war over each individual point in dispute rather than bargain for a package of agreements. For example, the school board thinks the teachers should have a longer workday; but is it worth risking a strike over this one point? Good teachers already work past their regular hours; will bad ones improve? Needless to say, this is not a change that the majority of teachers take lightly. Similarly, the union is concerned about what sorts of lesson plans teachers may be required to suwhat sorts of lesson plans teachers may be required to submit; but is that alone something to strike about?

Everyone knows who the real losers in a strike would be, for already the children have been losing while the union's "work to the rules" order has been in effect. Homework and classwork aren't getting graded as fast, and teachers aren't participating in extracurricualr activities before or after school. As we have said, there has been notable progress in the schools lately, with a return to more discipline and and emphasis on basics such as language and math - with tests to measure the students' national standings. It would be a crime to interrupt that progress with a strike. And the responsibility for avoiding such a strike rests with both the union and the board.