Herman A. Howard, the highest ranking black official in the Fairfax County school system, was forced to resign last night when the School Board voted to buy out the remaining 11 months of his one-year contract for $67,000.

The decision, announced in a one-sentence statement after a closed session, later drew an angry comment from Glenwood P. Roane, president of the NAACP's Fairfax branch. "It's awful," Roane told a reporter. Howard is "the highest black role model in the county . . . .

"I am assuming the only reason for the buy-out was because he is black," said Roane, adding that it illustrated "the reversal of affirmative action" throughout the country.

The board gave no explanation for its unanimous vote, saying only that it was a private personnel matter and that Howard had agreed to resign in return for payment of his contract. Some school employes said Howard's performance was the issue, and Roane said Howard was told that his performance was substandard.

Roane, who was at the meeting but could not address the board because he had not arranged in advance to do so, said he did not understand why Howard was promoted to deputy superintendent in June 1985 and is now told "his performance was so subpar that he is forced into resigning." That promotion came one month before the hiring of Robert R. Spillane as the county's new school superintendent.

"I can say nothing," said School Board Chairwoman Mary E. Collier. "Just that it serves both the school system and Herman's plans."

Howard, 53, who has worked for the school system for 16 years, could not be reached last night.

In March, Howard was honored by the Fairfax Coalition of Black Organizations for finding opportunities for minority students and for his contributions to the school system.

The board's action came an hour before the county's Human Relations Advisory Committee gave the School Board a report that included a recommendation to "actively recruit and promote qualified minorities into administrative positions."

A native of Pittsburgh, Howard was a teacher in Arlington, an assistant high school principal in Alexandria and an acting dean of the School of Education at the old Federal City College before joining Fairfax County schools.

Last June he was promoted from Area III superintendent to deputy superintendent. According to the terms of the resignation, the school system will pay for the remaining 11 months on his one-year $73,000 salary contract. A successor is expected to be named soon.