J. Edward Andrews, the newly appointed superintendent of Montgomery County schools, yesterday signed a $65,000-a-year contract with the school board, making him the highest paid school administrator in the area.

The popular Andrews, who served as acting superintendent since Charles M. Bernardo's ouster last May, reluctantly agreed to lead Montgomery's 185 schools last month after repeatedly refusing the high-pressure post, which was advertised nationwide at $60,000 a year.

Bernardo earned $53,000 when he resigned his post last spring after losing a court battle over the board's efforts to fire him.

Board member Joseph Barse, the only opponent to Andrews' appointment, abstained from the 5-to-0 vote on Andrews' four-year contract at the board's meeting yesterday. Another baord member, Blair Ewing, was absent but sent a message supporting Andrews' contract.

Barse, who objected to the board offering Andrews the job without formally interviewing other candidates, termed the agreement, "poor negotiating." He said Andrews "held all the cards" because he knew how eager board members are to have him serve as superintendent.

The contract Andrews signed yesterday guarantees him $65,000 starting July 1, with a 5 percent minimum increase each year. It also obligates the board to pay the premium on a $150,000 term life insurance policy for Andrews.

Although high for this area, where school superintendent salaries now hover in the upper $50,000 bracket, Andrews' pay is average for comparable school districts nationwide, according to Paul Salmon, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

"About $60,000 is average for large school districts and wealthy small school districts," Salmon said. "Sixty-five thousands dollars for Montgomery County is reasonable."

Salmon noted that Chicago's school chief is currently one of the highest paid in the nation with an annual salary of $82,000. In this area, Fairfax's Linton Deck recently signed a contract for $59,000. Superintendent salaries in Maryland are such that even Andrews old wage as acting superintendent, $56,000, was the highest in the state.

In Prince George's County, Superintendent Edward Feeney currently earns $55,290 to run the county's 217 schools, although he will renegotiate his contract with the board this summer. Baltimore City's superintendent also earns $55,000.

The District pays its superintendent $53,000 to manage its 190 schools. Baltimore County's superintendent earns $52,000, Arlington's superintendent earns $48,508 and Howard County's superintendent earns $43,965.

After Andrews signed his contract yesterday, he outlined his goals as superintendent. These include standardizing math and reading instruction in the county schools, eliminating drugs and alcohol from the schools and reducing the gap in achievement test scores between white, black and Hispanic students. t

Andrews thanked board members and staff for the praise heaped on him as they lobbied for his appointment, but warned, "I cannot perform miracles or magic. I am human."

He also said he did not want the school system to suffer a repeat of the Bernardo episode and promised to step down immediately whenever the board wished him to do so.