The Montgomery County school board broke a three-month stalemate with the county teachers yesterday and tentatively approved raising beginning teacher salaries to $19,000 a year.

The school board's action, which would make Montgomery teachers the fifth-highest paid in the metropolitan area, reflects a growing competition among area school systems that have begun to increase wages to attract new teachers.

The agreement gives veteran teachers a 6 percent increase beginning in the fall.

The County Council, which will vote Tuesday on the county budget, must act on the school board's request of an additional $7.4 million to finance the salary increases.

If the County Council denies the extra funds, starting teacher salaries would be increased by 3.7 percent to 17,100, the amount agreed to in a previously negotiated contract.

The board unanimously approved the agreement at a special board meeting yesterday afternoon.

The board of directors of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), the union that represents 6,400 teachers, also unanimously approved the proposal, but it must still be ratified by MCEA members.

The union spurned a school board offer in February to raise starting teacher salaries to $20,000 because veteran teachers would not have benefited under the proposed contract.

Under the new proposal, a starting teacher's salary would jump from $17,100 to $19,000, an 11 percent increase.

The salary of 10-year veteran would rise from $29,000 to $30,742.

Mark Simon, president of the MCEA, said the agreement "begins to address" the problem of raising starting teacher salaries. "But teacher salaries are still too low and there will be a continuing problem attracting the best and the brightest." Montgomery County will have to hire betweeen 600 and 800 teachers next year to cope with climbing enrollment and a sizable number of teachers who are retiring.

School officials fear they would not be able to attract enough new teachers if salaries are not competitive with those of other local jurisdictions.

Prince George's County, which had among the lowest starting salaries in the area, recently raised starting wages to $19,000 beginning next fall. Prince George's County also will offer one month of free rent and other incentives to attract new teachers.

If the increase in Montgomery is approved, starting salaries for teachers in in the county would lag behind those of Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Howard County.

Montgomery County school officials have offered new teachers the option of earning an additional $1,400 by attending workships and training sessions.

School Board President James Cronin said the pay increase for new teachers would give the school system "enough of an edge" to be competitive with other local school systems. Cronin said he was not sure if the school board will be able to persuade the council to approve the salary increases.

Council member David Scull said, "I favor the approach of the package and am willing to support a significant budget increase to raise starting teacher salaries and improve all teachers' salaries," he said.