Maryland State Superintendent of Schools David W. Hornbeck spent a day in one of the wealthiest counties in his jurisdiction -- one that is also spending thousands of dollars to oppose any change in the way the state funds public education.

Montgomery Countians asked Hornbeck at a public forum Tuesday evening about the Somerset v. Hornbeck lawsuit pending in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City that could cost Montgomery County millions of dollars in state aid.

At issue is a lawsuit brought by Baltimore City, Caroline, St. Mary's and Somerset counties alleging that Maryland's school finance system is unconstitutional and discriminates against students in poor counties. sMontgomery County joined the state as a defendant in the case.

"Education is a prime reason for living in this county. We have not complained about sharing the state burden, but if you equalize further, why should we live here?" read a question submitted to Hornbeck. "The short answer to the question is, because we are not operating in this county or in this state just on the principle of 'me-sim or "I-ism' . . . It is not in our self-interest to say, 'To heck with the rest of them.'

"In this state we pretend it costs $950 (a year) to educate a kid. Up to that $950 level, no taxpayer has to exert any more effort than any other to support that level. But it costs twice that, and in some cases more than twice $950," Hornbeck said.

The superintendent explained that it was easier for wealthy subdivisions to raise the rest of the money, but that "We have an obligation as a citizen of the state of Maryland to reach out even further and extend a fiscal helping hand."

Fewer than 100 persons attended the forum. Their questions ranged from the Somerset lawsuit to the state's Project Basic program and teacher compentency.

After his appointment in 1977 as the state's fifth school superintendent, Hornbeck set in motion the Project Basic program, which, when fully implemented, will set minimum compentency requirements in reading, math and writing for high school graduation.

One of those requirements -- that students pass the Maryland Functional Reading Test -- goes into effect for the graduating class of 1982.

In reply to a question about the quality of teachers, Hornbeck said, "I think the great bulk of the 42,000 teachers in the state are doing a good job." t

However, he said he would present a plan to the state Board of Education at the end of the month that will spell out an approach to the questions of teacher preparation and qualification.

"Some people think teacher competency tests are the answer. Some form of competency test represents a piece of the answer, but only a piece.

"The notion of reducing to paper-and-pencil test what a good teacher is, is nonsense. But to test a minimally acceptable level of the use of the English language is not nonsense. It is entirely possible. I have some sympathy for the notion that all our teachers should perform at that level," Hornbeck said.

The superintendent spent nearly an hour talking with students at Montgomery Blair High School. They told Hornbeck about the newly instituted departmental exams. Some students thought that counting the exam as 25 percent of their grade for the last marking period of the semester was unfair.

"It is a lot," Hornbeck said, "but is it too much? Looking at my high school and college experience, it's not unusual for much of the grade to be based on a single test.

Hornbeck's tour of the county was part of his program to visit one of the state's 24 schools districts every two weeks.