The trustee for E.S.M. Government Securities Inc., whose collapse last spring triggered a major crisis among privately insured savings and loan associations in Ohio, said a tentative agreement has been reached that will reimburse 22 E.S.M. creditors for about 22 to 23 cents of each dollar they are owed.

Thomas Tew, the trustee of the collapsed Florida government securities firm, said he and lawyers for the creditors -- including 17 municipalities, four savings and loans and the State of Ohio -- reached an agreement to divide up roughly $35 million in assets Tew has recovered. They represent the majority of E.S.M. creditors.

The customers themselves must approve the agreement as well as U.S. District Judge Jose Gonzalez, who is presiding over the bankruptcy case.

Tew called the settlement "just the first step." He said other E.S.M. creditors might object or the customers involved in yesterday's settlement might reject their lawyers' recommendations.

E.S.M., based in Fort Lauderdale, failed last March owing customers about $315 million. Most of the savings and loans and municipalities that lost money were those who made loans to E.S.M., took securities pledged by E.S.M. as collateral, but left the collateral on deposit with E.S.M.

When E.S.M. failed, these customers discovered that many of the securities E.S.M. pledged to back loans did not exist.

The E.S.M. failure last March triggered massive losses at the Cincinnati-based Home State Savings and Loan Association. The losses totaled nearly $150 million, more than the amount in the private Ohio Deposit Guarantee Fund, which backed deposits in all 70 state-chartered, privately insured savings and loan associations in the state.

Once depositors at privately insured institutions realized the scope of the loss at Home State, they launched a run on all privately insured institutions in the state.

Only two months later, depositors at state-chartered, privately insured savings and loans in Maryland, sensitized by the Ohio crisis, staged a similar run after they learned of massive losses at one of the larger members of the Maryland Savings-Share Insurance Corp., Old Court Savings and Loan. Several Maryland savings and loans remain closed, and Old Court was put in receivership yesterday.

Under the tentative E.S.M. settlement reached yesterday, the 21 savings and loans and municipalities would share $25 million, while the State of Ohio, the liquidator of Home State, would receive $10 million.

As part of the agreement, Florida's American Savings and Loan agreed to put $5 million into the E.S.M. estate and drop a $72 million claim against the estate of the failed securities firm. In return, Tew said he will drop a suit that sought to force American to return to the estate $45 million the savings and loan recovered from E.S.M. before its failure in early March.