School desegregation, first ordered three years ago, is scheduled to begin next week even though school officials still are not sure how they will carry it out.

The best that educators can report is that they are still short 34 of the 123 buses needed to transport an estimated 9,500 students to new schools.

Only a handful of additional buses are due this week, and school officials say they may have to lease more.

The bus shortage typifies much of Cleveland's desegregation effort since Aug. 31, 1976, when U.S. District Court Judge Frank J. Battisti declared that the city ran a segregated school system and ordered an integration plan.

It was only last week that students were told which schools they would attend, and it will not be until later this week that they are given their transportation assignments.

In addition to desegregation, Cleveland faces all the ills of a big city school system. Hundreds of employees have been laid off, nearly half the students in some high schools are absent daily and nearly two-thirds of the students in some schools read at below average levels.

Against that backdrop, school officials have set Monday to begin the first part of a three-phase desegregation plan. Other steps are scheduled for February and the following fall until school rools reflect the citywide population ratio of 60 percent black, 40 percent white. The system has about 88,000 students.

In Battisti's 1976 decision he found 214 instances since 1940 in which school officials, by acting or failing to act, created a more-segregated system. By 1975 92 percent of Cleveland's black youngsters were attending one-race schools, compared to 51 percent in 1940.

Less than six months after Battisti's finding of segregation, he was scolding school officials for not carrying out court orders.

The board of education's first planning efforts were deemed inadequate. After several tongue lashings and threats of contempt of court from Battisti, school officials still proclaimed their innocence but began to consider desegregation.

By then, however, it was spring of 1977 and it was the court which delayed acting. No plan for pupils was issued for that fall and Battisti finally adopted a plan in February 1978 to begin the following fall.

Shortly afterward, Battisti-- convinced that Cleveland had no one who knew how to desegregate schools -- ordered the board to hire Dr. Charles W. Leftwich of Boston as deputy superintendent for desegregation. He also told the board to hire whomevery Leftwich wanted at whatever salaries he set.

Leftwich and his staff of out-of-towners took over the school system, eventually forcing the resignation of Superintendent Paul W. Briggs, who had directed the system since 1964.

Leftwich did not fare much better because of lack of support from entrenched school officials. His abilities to administer a large department were also questioned.

At the last minute-- Aug. 25 a year ago-- Battisti again postponed desegregation, citing a "deplorable lack of preparedness by school officials."

Within two months, Leftwich quit and most of his top aides either quit or were fired by the board, allegedly for budget reasons.

Battisti reluctantly went along with a school board recommendation that Dr. Margaret Fleming, highly regarded head of the system's research department, be named to replace Leftwich. Fleming had no experience in desegregating a school system.

The first big test for the department came last February when most junior highs were to be desegregated. That was stopped at the last minute by a stay from an appeals court, but school officials still decided to close one black junior high school and bus 400 pupils to white schools on Cleveland's predominantly white West Side.

The busing went smoothly, but four weeks later there were still five all-black classes on one "integrated" school.

Finally, with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings this summer that Dayton and Columbus must desegregate, the stay was lifted and Cleveland officials were ordered once again to desegregate.

Early last month Battisti told school officials, "Obviously, defendants believe that desegregation can best be accomplished by administrators undergoing on-the-job training in the skills unique and essential to desegregation tasks. However, the students may suffer as novice administrators learn their tasks."

Battisti's warnings have been repeated by the NAACP, which brought the Cleveland suit. "What the Cleveland schools have the most experience in is segregating, not desegregating," said Thomas I. Atkins of Boston, one of the lawyers in the Cleveland case. "If they wind up . . . massacring implementation, we will take very, very strong action."

As for the community, the numerous plans and stops-and-starts of the past three years seem to have given parents and students a skeptical attitude.

In interviews throughout the city white students predict trouble when desegregation begins, but also say they will not be the ones to start conflicts.

Richard Miller, 16, who faces a bus ride of an hour over 17 miles of city streets, said, "I think it's stupid.We moved here 11 years ago because the schools were so close together."

Despite the widespread feelings in the white community, antibusing rallies rarely draw more than 200 persons.

Community leaders-- particularly politicians-- have been silent. It was impossible, for example, to get Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich, who is running for reelection this year, to address a meeting of top school staffers on the need for desegregation.

Instead, his safety director, James W. Barrett, took the mayor's place and recalled an offhand comment of the mayor months ago that he was "personally opposed to busing" but the law would be upheld.

And there are always some who are ready to try a new school.

Ten-year-old Belinda Anderson has figured out how she will make new friends on the other side of town.

"I'll say hi then they'll say hi," she said. "I'll ask their names and they'll tell me and ask me mine and I'll tell them. Then I'll ask them what room they're in and they'll tell me and ask me what room I'm in and I'll tell them."

"Then We'll go play."