Twelve candidates for the Montgomery County school board, opening the campaign season at a public forum last week, called for a pared-down school system with more emphasis on teaching and less emphasis on special programs and aids.

The candidates recommended smaller class sizes, more time for teachers to teach and less paper work for teachers. Some candidates voiced sharp criticism of Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo.

The candidates, crowding around a semi-circle of tables at the Montgomery County Educational Services Center in Rockville, answered questions that had been prepared by 11 political and civic organizations who sponsored the forum.Each candidate also made a brief statement on his or her educational aims. Four seats on the seven-member school board are up for election this year. None of the candidates, even those who have announced they will seek a school board post, has filed for office. The filing deadline is July 3.

Two school board members - Roscoe Nix and Herbert Benington - have announced they will seek re-election. Board member Verna Fletcher said she has not decided if she will run again.Elizabeth Spencer, who holds the fourth position, could be reached for comment.

Many of the candidates at the forum criticized sophisticated special programs or, at the least, said the school system should find better ways to justify and evaluate the programs.

"We are supposed to have comprehensive high schools with education for all kinds of students," said Sylvia Wubnig, a candidate from Silver Spring, who recently retired after 22 years of teaching English and social studies at Montgomery Blair High School. "We don't need projects and teacher specialists. We need fine teachers. I don't know what a teacher specialist has done for me or for anyone I've ever worked with. We need teachers working with children."

When asked about alternative schools, candidate Carol Wallace, a Silver Spring resident and a former teacher, said, "I don't think something called Vo-Tech High School would work. I do think there is a need for centers for vocational and technical work. Also, we should find out how many parents would send their child - not the child up the street."

Some of the largest bursts of applause at the forum, attended by about 300 persons, went to speakers who severely criticized Bernardo and policies governing school closings.

"The superintendent seems to have invented a new evil that can best be defined as 'undercrowding,'" said candidate Herbert Grossman, a Silver Spring resident and a Justice Department lawyer. "We have been told that only through closures of elementary schools can there be significant cost savings."

Grossman contended that money saved by closing schools makes up only 1 1/2 percent of the annual school budget.

Eleanor Zappone, a Silver Spring resident and a former PTA president, said that if she were elected to the school board, she would vote to remove Bernardo. "He has failed to be a leader," Zappone said. "His reorganization plan was rejected by teachers. His verbose statements are now seen as camouflage for fuzzy thinking."

Several candidates criticized present board members for lack of communication among themselves and with community residents, echoing a recently released report by a blue ribbon commission that criticizes board members.

Still, the candidates said, the school system is basically a good one that, according to candidate Nancy Wiecking, is suffering from "mid-life crisis. I see no way problems in a large, complex system can be solved with a single answer," said Wiecking, a Bethesda resident and a member of the commission that wrote the critical report about the board.

Other candidates at the forum were:

Joseph Barse, a budget examiner for the U.S. Bureau of the Budget and a past vice-president of the Somerset Elementary School, who lives in Chevy Chase.

Barbara Center, a Chevy Chase resident, former president of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase PTA and current president of a civic group called Citizens for a Better Montgomery County.

Fredrica Hodges, outgoing president of the Montgomery Knolls PTA, who lives in Silver Spring.

Sandra King-Shaw, president of the Montgomery County Council of PTA's and a Rockville resident.

Barry Klein, a Potomac resident, physicist, and member of the Tuckerman Elementary School's local evaluation committee formed last fall when Tuckerman was studied for closing.

Joseph Sagneri, a Rockville resident and personnel worker in the Montgomery County school system's pupil placement services where he has worked for 18 years.

Barbara Kay Smerko, former teacher and education director for the League of Women Voters, who lives in Rockville.

David A. Scott, of Bethesda, did not attend the forum, but sent a representative.

Roger Heymann, a small businessman and former math teacher at Argyle Junior High, who lives in Silver Spring, was not present at the meeting.