IN A PERIOD of declining public school enrollments in the District, many budget cuts have been and will continue to be made. But admirable contributions of private time and money have already made some important differences.

Great credit -- not just for making unpopular but necessary cuts in the school operations but also for finding new private sources of money to carry on worthwhile programs -- goes to School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed. It was he who contacted the Geico Corp., which is now donating nearly $600,000 to continue driver education for another year.

Geico, which insures about one-quarter of all Washington area drivers, considers its contribution a sound business investment as well as a way to support a "socially responsible" community activity. The company's donation also prevented the loss of about $1 million in U.S. highway safety funds that are contingent upon the maintenance of a driver education program.

The other large contribution this year is coming from the National Football League Players Association, which is donating $900,000 to continue the school-camping program at Camp Round Meadow in Catoctin Mountain Park; the city school system had used the camp as a way to bring together black and white students, from different economic backgrounds and sections of the city, to study geology, ecology, and anthropology. The camp program will now be expanded.

On still another front, parents are forming a citywide coalition -- Parents United for Full Public School Funding -- to draw attention to damaging effects that certain teacher shortages and program cuts are having on public education. If its organizers concentrate on support for reasonable financing of basic classroom education -- rather than just for larger appropriations to preserve an entire bureaucracy that is serving a smaller population -- this effort can be useful. There is no question that certain classrooms are suffering from overcrowding, dilapidated or nonexistent books and the reduction or elimination of music, art and foreign language programs.

Private money and effort cannot and should not be expected to underwrite too much of the public education system. Sponsorship of activities must be considered on a case-by-case basis to prevent any unethical commercialization of school programs, and reliance on the private donations of parents should not be so great as to produce educational inequities from neighborhood to neighborhood. But the increased interest of people and organizations in the city's schools can be enormously helpful -- as Superintendent Reed and others have already demonstrated.