William I. Saunders, 64, a former president of the Montgomery County School Board, died of cancer Friday at his home in Ashton, Md.

He served on the school board from 1962 to 1966 and was its president in 1965. Mr. Saunders was generally considered to be a member of the conservative group during his years on the board.

He was elected to a four-year term in 1962 on a platform of economy in the schools and favored greater attention being devoted basic subjects in the classroom. He was defeated for reelection in 1966.

He also served on the Board of Trustees of Montgomery College in 1965.

Mr. Saunders was active in other community activities. He was a member of the Montgomery County Community Action Committee, and participated in the building fund drive for Montgomery General Hospital in Olney.

He was a member of the Montgomery County Republican Central Commitee in the mid 1970s, and served on the President's Inaugural Committee in 1973.

Mr. Saunders was a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. He attended the University of Chicago, Temple University, and George Washington University. He served in the Army during World War Ii.

He came to this area in 1947 and taught English at the Warren School, then located in Olney, from 1947 to 952. He then joined the J. C. Penney Company in Silver Spring and was head of the shoe department there before joining Olney Electric as sales manager.

He spent 14 years with Olney Electric before establishing his own store, the old Olney Appliance Center, in 1973. From 1976 until retiring for reasons of health in February 1980, he was sales manager for Arrow Refrigeration in Hyattsville.

Mr. Saunders was a member of the advisory committee of the arts and humanities of the National College of Science and Arts. He was the author of two books, "Pillars of Space," which was an antology of his poetry, and "The Magic Eight," a grammar text. Both books appeared in the late 1940s.

Before coming to Washington he had played the bass viol in symphony orchestras and jazz bands in New York and New Jersey.

Survivors include his wife of 42 years, the former Betty Ringsmuth of Ashton; two daughters, Diane Hoover of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Elizabeth Moyer of Atlanta; his mother, Ella C. Warren of Homer, N.Y., a brother, Joseph, of Muncie. Ind.; a sister, Eve Saunders of Menlo Park, Calif., and two grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society.