The teachers strike that has crippled Washington's public school has been unusually difficult to settle because the money issues, which normally dominate labor-management confronations, have been almost absent.

Instead, the issue at the negotiating table has been one of power -- what degree of the school board's authority over curriculum, discipline, granding and other educational policy-making should it share with teachers and their union?

The same issues of policy-setting have cropped up in teacher contract negotiations around the country, but almost never to the degree they dominate negotiations here, experts say.

The reason for the different focus is straightforward: Unlike virtually every other school board in the country, Washington's board has no power to set or even recommend teacher salaries. Pay is set by the mayor and City Council and reviewed by Congress.

On the other hand, the Washington school board has no state school board or legislature hovering over it, and thus has unusually wide powers to establish educational policies and programs.

"It's a very unusual situation in Washington," said Thomas Shannon, the executive director of the National School Boards Association, "and it creates enormous pressures for the board to (negotiate) about matters that characteristially are dealt with by management."

"In negotiations there usually can be some kind of trade-off," said Judith Esmay, the author of a study on teacher collective bargaining for the National Committee for Citizens in Education. "I don't know of any district (except Washington) where money is not part of the package so it can't be part of the horse-trading.

"Ordinarily, a board can make a (pay) offer and get something back for it," Esmay continued. "But without that, the board in Washington is in a very tough position for bargaining."

The D.C. school board has had contracts with its teachers union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, since 1967.

Virtually all of the major provisions, which remained in force until the board again refused to extend the contract last month, were negotiated in 1968 by the last group of board members that were appointed by federal judges and not elected.

According to both union and school officials, the old contract was highly favorable to teachers -- a source of pride to the union, which used it as the centerpiece in its efforts to recruit members -- but of severe frustration to a decade of elected school boards and superintendents.

As a result, the normal posture of labor and management in collective bargaining negotiations is reversed in the current teachers' dispute.

It is the Washington Teachers Union, and not management, that generally is satisfied with the status quo and seeks mainly to extend it. On the other hand, it was the school board that came to negotiation with a shopping list of major changes.

Under the old contract, teacher rights and power were guaranteed through two mechanisms. On some matters, such as student discipline and grades, teacher training and curriculum development, there were contract provisions spelling out specific procedures.

On many other matters, teachers were guaranteed a strong collective voice in shaping policy through the union.

The contract provided for joint union board committees, with the union appointing half the members, to oversee teacher evaluation, supply distribution, and even the hiring of teachers for summer school and adult education programs.

In individual schools, the contract provided for School Chapter Advisory Committees, composed of seven union members, with which principals were required to "consult" on "matters of school policy" as well as on issues specifically covered in the contract.

"What that did varied a great deal in different schools," one school official said. "In some schools with a weaker principal nothing happens unless the (union) committee approves. Elsewhere, the committees hardly ever meet."

In addition, the old contract gave teachers a strong mechanism to thwart the orders of principals and supervisors by establishing a grievance procedure -- with binding arbitration -- not only for complaints stemming from contract provision but for any "deviation from, misinterpretation of, or misapplication of a practive or policy."

According to Esmay and Shannon, such a broad grievance and arbitration clause, which the Washington school board now is trying to curtail, is very unusual.

Most of the other provisions are found in different teacher union contracts throughout the country, they said, though the whole package probably is not duplicated anywhere else.

For example, among the Washington suburbs, those in Virginia now have no teacher union contracts because of a decision banning them last year by the state's Supreme Court.

The contracts in Montgomery and Prince George's counties give far less authority to joint union-board committees and clearly limit the power of local school advisory committees. Both contain specific provisions on student discipline, but none on grading.

In addition, teachers in all of the suburbs now have a work day one hour longer than the 6 1/2 hours, including lunch, provided for in the Washington teachers' contract. The D.C. school board has been seeking to lengthen the work day, but without any power over salaries it has had no way to buy it.

Under a new personnel law, passed by the D.C. City Council in December, the school board will gain the power to negotiate salaries starting with the 1980-81 school year. But for next year the Council already has pegged teacher pay raises to those of federal workers.

"When we get the power to negotiate salaries, things will change tremendously," said George Margolies, a school system attorney. "But right now we're operating under the old system, and we don't have any money to trade off. We're dealing with issues of principle and it's very difficult to move."