When Madison school superintendent Douglas S. Ritchey rejected a 1975 offer to head the Montgomery County school system, a major factor in his decision was the restful lakefront cottage he owned in the Wisconsin wilderness.

"It symbolized a lot to me," remarked Ritchey, whose wilderness retreat meant more to him than the higher professional challenge in Montgomery. "I realized that the move and the pressure in the Montgomery job just weren't worth my leaving Madison."

Four years later the Montgomery County Board of Education again is conducting a national search for a new superintendent -- this time to replace Charles M. Bernardo, the man who accepted the position after Ritchey declined it.

Once again, the school board has been turned down by its top candidate for the job. Interim Superintendent Edward Andrews, like Ritchey, feels the pressure of heading one of the nation's largest and most affluent school districts, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week is too great a personal sacrifice.

"I resent the job-is-your-life syndrome. If I had four more hours a day, two more days a week I might be able to do the job," said Andrews, the hands-down favorite of the school board to succeed Bernardo who resigned last spring.

Andrews insists he will not apply for the job, which runs for four years beginning next July.

"There is a fine staff and the best school system in the country here, but to be successful you have to make this job your entire existence," he said. "I have my family, other people depend on me."

Applications for the post already are beginning to pour in, according to Harold V. Webb, the Illinois consultant heading the board's superintendent search. Last week Webb mailed out over 450 letters to educators around the country, inviting them to apply for the job.

Advertisements for the position also have begun appearing in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. The ads guarantee a starting salary of $60,000 and stipulate an Oct. 19 deadline for applications.

The notice described the school district as "urban/suburban/rural, located directly northwest of Washington, D.C. The county's 587,000 residents have one of the highest percapita incomes in the nation . . . It has strong economic and cultural ties with the District of Columbia.The school system is one of the nation's largest with 102,000 pupils and a staff of 11,600.

The ads leave unmentioned the intangibles that Andrews and Ritchey disdain. The school board, for instance, meets more than 90 times a year, nearly twice as frequently as other boards in the area and more often than 95 percent of all American school boards.

Those meetings, which the superintendent is required to attend, can last more than eight hours at a stretch. Last winter during budget deliberations the board met for an incredible 26 hours at one time.

Andrews, a genial, highly-respected official becomes openly frustrated during seemingly endless board meetings. During a recent session that was intended to last only three hours but adjourned after five, Andrews was overheard speaking to his wife over the telephone in the board's Rockville meeting room.

"No," he said softly. "No, go ahead and start dinner without me again. I know. I know . . . it's going to be later than I thought."

The superintendent's schedule normally runs between 7 a.m. and midnight, according to Andrews, with few breaks during weekends, when there always is "some kind of function or meeting to attend," he said.

Then there are the frequent phone calls from parents, teachers and administrators that can -- and often do -- come at home at all times of the day and night.

"Montgomery County residents are wealthy, intelligent and important and they all want a piece of the top man," said Thomas Israel, former president of the school board that selected Bernardo in 1975.

Another official remarked, "It's the quintessence of top public office. You're in the fish bowl. . . You take the hardship with the challenge."

School board president Marian Greenblatt has said the board is searching for someone "who can implement the policies of this board."

The new superintendent, while attempting to maintain programs for the handicapped and disadvantaged as required by laws dating from the last decade, also must head the system through an era of tighter fiscal constraints.

He also must be able to follow the back-to-basics policies advocated by the board majority.

In the meantime, he must try to answer the varying, heated concerns of disparate portions of the county, an exercise that deeply unsettled Bernardo.

Montgomery, Bernardo said, constituted a series of independent islands, each harboring "myopic concern" only for itself.

According to Ritchey, thought, that assessment is characteristic of many large school systems across the country, "where people have fundamental differences about what should be going on in their schools."

Ritchey said recently he will not apply for the Montgomery post. "I've been a big-city superintendent for 13 years now," he remarked. "That's long enough . . . I've been through the wars."

Former Montgomery County school official Donald Miedema, currently superintendent of Springfield, Ill. schools, said he retains "tremendous affection" for the county and would enjoy returning some day.

"But I have a real commitment to Springfield now," and Miedema, who was the No. 3 choice for the Montgomery post in 1975 behind Ritchey and Bernardo. "My life is here. I honestly understand what Ed's [Andrews] talking about, though.

"As the commercial goes, you only have one life to lead. Well, not everyone wants to lead it attending school board meetings."