The DISTRICT school board is a joke, a bad joke that has gone too far. While parents lose faith in the public school, the school board is preoccupied, according to members of its staff, with "vulgar tirades, physical intimidation and verbal harassment" of its employees. In a petition to the board, the staff members wrote that "morale has reached an all-time low at the board of education. It is virtually impossible for most staff members to get any work done . . . . There are days, too many days, when one or more board members seem to spend their time giving staff orders, more orders and then conflicting orders . . . . The chaos that often results . . . brings much of the staff' work to a halt."

While it is not news that the board does not accomplish much in the way of improving the city schools, the memo does offer a close-up view of what the board does with its time and money. Time is "consumed for the better part of the day by the pettiness of board members," the petition says. It comes against a backdrop for years of constant back-biting, race-baiting and mounds of memos that concentrate only on personal fights among board members.

In addition to wasting time, the school board is wasting money. The board's 11 members have a staff of 37 and their own budget of $1,114,065. In comparison, Fairfax County schools, which have over 20,000 more students than the District schools, have a school board staff of only four for its 10 board members. Even taking into consideration the D.C. board's state functions -- which are not performed by school boards in the counties -- the wide difference in expenditures is too great to be reasonably explained.

It is not that the board has an "image problem," as president R. Calvin Lockridge says. It is that the board's image is an accurate portrayal of a group of petty, incompetent officials more concerned with self-promotion than with public education.

What can be done? For one thing, board members can be recalled -- voted out of office by a public angry enough to circulate petitions and get the question on the ballot. Next, those people who care abut schools have no time to lose in preparing citywide slates of competent, sensible candidates for the 1981 elections. The present board is the product of political neglect and confusion in the past. The result, on view daily at the school board's offices, is bringing the whole concept of an elected board into disrepute.

That's the real issue for the next school board election -- whether this city wants an elected board, and wants it badly enough to make the electoral system put able, serious and dedicated people into public office. This city's school system is too valuable, and its work is too urgent, to leave in the care of 11 people who, together, comprise a sort of coarse situation comedy. The improvement in the children's test scores this year demonstrates the progress that can be achieved. The schools need a board that, in contrast to the present one, can guide and assist that progress.