IT'S TIME once again for the annual hue and cry over what the mayor is or isn't trying to do to the school budget. Only the numbers are changed, to reflect inflation. Otherwise, the minuet is familiar: 1) the school system submits a budget request to the mayor; 2) the mayor trims the request, just as he trims every request; 3) school officials cry foul (so far this year, the words have included "asinine," "criminal" and "ridiculous") and they warn that more than 500 teachers may have to be laid off; and 4) . . . hold it right here, we'll get to that.

First, a look at this year's "trim." The budget proposed by the mayor for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 is actually slightly higher than the current fiscal year's financing. But it is $18 million less than the board sought in a $336.4 million request. So, should the schools get more than the mayor has allowed?

The answer is probably, but not necessarily what the schools requested, which is to proceed to 4), when the council steps in and settles on an amount somewhere in between. At this point this year, even before the council considers the schools' views, at least one member of the school board, Calvin Lockridge, is complaining that the council's new chairman, David Clarke--unlike his predecessor, Arrington Dixon--will not be a "major advocate who would go all the way for the schools. . . ."

Mr. Clarke has not advocated anything other than fair financing for the schools. He has noted only that "it is grossly unfair to characterize the mayor's school budget as a cut. The mayor has proposed an increase that is less than what the school board wants."

So it is not time for teachers to start packing. Nor is it grounds for charging that the mayor is anti- education, anti-children or that he seeks to "control" the school system. It is the school system's job, not the mayor's, to figure out how its allocated money is spent. What the public--teachers, parents and other taxpayers--should watch is whether these "trims" or "cuts" really have to translate into firings of teachers.

The real danger, now as in the past, is that the posturing on all sides may prevent reasonable compromise, leaving the system in limbo for so long that orderly planning, teacher assignments and curriculums are not ready in time for the opening of school next fall. It already takes so long to get a school budget over all of its congressional hurdles that no unnecessary local obstacles should be put in the way.