FOR 15 YEARS D.C. public school officials have put off a major repair program for the aging buildings under their care. The budget increases each year have focused instead on improving the quality of education and on higher pay for teachers and for staff. Now School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie says that more money has to be concentrated on repairing school buildings, many of which are at least 50 years old. In her budget request for the next fiscal year she is seeking an extra $3 million for repairs, on top of the $6 million spent per year in the past. The $3 million would be "the first major increase in this area since 1972," the budget documents say. To emphasize the need for at least that amount, school officials say there are $99 million worth -- yes, you read that right -- of backed-up repair and maintenance needs.

These are not frills. School-system officials say 87 school-building roofs need major repairs. Window frames are said to be so rotted at many schools that they would not hold new panes of glass. Old electrical systems are inadequate for running computer labs. The budget speaks of a pattern of "longstanding neglect" of school buildings that suffered poor maintenance and the deferment of needed repairs.

It matters to both teaching and learning -- to morale, of both students and staff -- whether a building is inviting or delapidated, attractive or depressing. In any number of D. C. schools you will find auditoriums where the seats are ready to collapse, public-address systems that fail, broken windows patched with plywood. Energy is wasted -- and money with it -- because of heating systems that routinely break down and because of delayed boiler conversions.

Fixing up old buildings does not sound very exciting. But maintenance can only be deferred so long without real danger. In the schools it is time to add a new set of Rs to the old one: renovate, replace and restore.