NEW YORK, MARCH 10 -- As 500 students marched on the Paterson, N.J., school board offices Thursday, they were joined by Joe Clark, their bullhorn-toting principal, who asked them to wait until the television cameras arrived. Clark, who had just been suspended by the board for five days over a risque' school show, was more than willing to discuss his favorite subject. He was "unappreciated," he told the crowd. He could make a "greater contribution" on the lecture circuit, where he could earn $300,000 or $400,000 a year. He might just quit as the $63,000-a-year principal of Eastside High School, the scene of his bat-wielding exploits that are celebrated in the new movie "Lean on Me." "Mr. Clark has gotten caught up in the Hollywood hype," school board attorney Robert Rosenberg said today. "He's obviously been affected by someone making a movie about him. It's a natural reaction." As for Clark's threats to leave, Rosenberg said, "I think that's his ego talking." Paterson Mayor Frank X. Graves Jr., who generally has supported Clark, said he was so "disturbed" and "annoyed" at Clark's recent behavior that he is taking out a full-page newspaper ad to urge the principal to cool it. "I want him to get back to the educational process," the mayor said. "I'm asking him to remember that he's in charge of a whole generation and it needs him to be there, not all over the country. We're losing all that we've gained." And what does Joe Clark, whose tough-guy approach to discipline has brought him national fame -- not to mention $7,500 a speech -- have to say about all this? "I sincerely feel that no longer do I want to be part of the decadence, the indolence, the morose environment of education in inner cities throughout this nation," he declared today in a telephone interview from his Eastside High office. "I see black and Hispanic students becoming more and more academically inferior to white and Asian students. I'm not sure I want to be part of the educational demise and festering that is etching away at the very soul of this nation." Is he angry at the Paterson school board? "I have here at home a bunch of invidious, insidious, wicked people. I mean wicked. They're treacherous, envious and jealous. They needed someone's head on a platter." The world's most famous principal did not sound terribly traumatized by his week's suspension with pay, which begins Monday. "I just might pick up a couple of lucrative speaking engagements in the process," he suggested. Clark said he was thinking of setting up a nonprofit foundation to train inner-city principals. He also hinted, but would not discuss, that he might be angling for a job with the Bush administration. Clark denied, however, that fame and fortune have gone to his head. "My achievements are pretty awesome for a poor black welfare boy from Newark, but ... I never let things get out of proportion," he said. Joe Clark is one of those men, like Donald Trump or Jesse Jackson, who are adept at milking every drop of publicity from an exhaustively chronicled career, which for Clark is now approaching 30 years. First there was the flap with the school board last year after he chained the doors at Eastside High, saying it was necessary to keep hooligans and miscreants out. Then, too, Clark talked about quitting, but after venturing to Washington to discuss a job with the Reagan administration, he returned to work. Next came "Lean on Me," starring Morgan Freeman as Crazy Joe, and all the attendant hyperbole. But after learning this month that boxer Mike Tyson had been given $150,000 for promoting the movie, Clark decreed that he would stop plugging the flick unless he was paid to do so. Now comes the G-string affair. Last month, in an Eastside program to celebrate the film's premiere, professional singers stripped down to G-strings and sequined bikinis. Although Clark was off in Los Angeles filming "The Arsenio Hall Show," the City Council demanded his firing. The school board opted for his suspension. "It was failure to conduct himself in a professional manner," Rosenberg said. "He had approved the show." On Thursday, when 500 Hispanic students marched to protest a shortage of bilingual teachers at Eastside, the man with the bullhorn turned the demonstration into yet another episode of The Joe Clark Show. There are, of course, stark differences between the uplifting Hollywood version of an inner-city high school and the more depressing New Jersey reality. While actor Freeman, in the movie's climactic scene, announces that 75 percent of his students have passed a high school proficiency exam, the actual figure at Eastside this year was 31 percent, lowest in Passaic County. "I've not been able to get my test scores up as high as I would like," Clark said. "But I have been able to bring about discipline and order and an environment that's conducive to learning. The vast majority of students coming here read at a third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade level. "I'm tired of having to fight the drugs, crime, vandalism, violence, incest, bombs, guns, hostile parents, hostile politicians, hostile boards. I see this nationally, the proliferation of stagnation. The problems are massive. I just don't feel good when I pick up my check." So is he really leaving Eastside? The master of the absolute statement hedges a bit. "The only thing that would stop me is the fact that I love the kids," Clark said. "I don't ever want those bastards to think they could run me out of here. That keeps me here."