Most of the six Prince William County school board members who attended a special work session at the Omni Hotel in Richmond last Friday pronounced the meeting a success and a first step toward holding an annual board retreat.

"It was the most productive meeting we ever had," said Vice Chairman Donald Chendorain (Neabsco). "It laid the ground work for what we'll do in the future."

Board member William Hundley (Coles) said the relaxed out-of-town atmosphere allowed the board to speak more frankly. "We didn't sit in that big {school board} room on that platform, and Roberts Rules of Order were not the order of the day," said Hundley.

W. Shapard Elmore (Woodbridge) disagreed.

"I'd just as soon have had it in Prince William, and I think everybody would have come," said Elmore, who complained in an interview this week that little new ground was explored during the discussion.

Board member Ilona H. Salmon (Occoquan) was absent, after raising objections to holding a board meeting outside Prince William.

The Richmond meeting became an issue last month when board chairman Maureen Caddigan announced the board's intention to attend a state school board meeting on July 26 and then to remain for a meeting " on Friday. "I do not think it appropriate for the School Board to set goals and priorities in Richmond," Salmon said at the time."

As it turned out, the three-hour meeting was far more circumscribed. Although the board discussed some organizational issues and conferred on the need to set annual, as well as six-year, goals for the county's schools, most of the agenda covered familiar territory.

The meeting was open to the public, but no members of the press or the public was present. The school administration has produced a tape of the two-hour open session.

The price tag for the meeting included rooms for four board members on Thursday night at $109 per person, rooms for six board members on Friday night, at $69 per person, and a nominal fee for rental of a private meeting room, according to the hotel.

As a result of the meeting, the board has decided to consider forming two board committees in addition to the policy committee: one on budget and finance, and another on salaries and benefits.

During the discussion, board members touched on a variety of perennial issues -- air conditioning, minority achievement, trailer classrooms, test scores. The board also spent more than an hour in executive session discussing, among other things, the performance of Superintendent Edward L. Kelly.

According to sources, some board members complained that Kelly has not always kept the board fully informed of school matters, such as the recent disclosure that federal officials found that former Westgate principal Richard Keeler had discriminated against a black third-grade student last fall.

Kelly refused to comment on the executive session, but said board members had been aware of the outcome of the Keeler investigation, which began last fall. Kelly said he had been surprised when the Office of Civil Rights findings were reported in the press in June.

Keeler has since been reassigned as principal of Mullen Elementary school, to open in September.

The criticism of Kelly comes on the heels of a board rebuff to the superintendent's request in May to study new ways of teaching students, and the board's insistence on capping the raises of top school administrators over Kelly's objections.

Chendorain predicted the board will be "more activist" for the remaining two years of its four-year term.

Board members suggested that a retreat, a custom of other area school boards, might be held in the county this winter, this one to include school staff. Kelly was the only staff member present in Richmond.

"The biggest outcome was a redefinition of our clarity and understanding," said Hundley. "We're a stronger board for it."