No matter who wins the District 5 seat on the Montgomery County Board of Education, the board will gain a novice.

District 5 is one of three Montgomery school board races this year in which there is no incumbent. More than that, each of the District 5 candidates is making a first attempt at public office.

But if they are lacking in electoral experience, the three candidates are not newcomers to education.

Two of them, Frances Brenneman and Beatrice Gordon, are longtime PTA activists who, unlike the board's seven current members, have children in the public schools. The other, Donald R. Buckner, is a health professions educator who is a former teacher and college professor and administrator.

The Sept. 11 primary will reduce the field to two candidates, who will compete in the November general election.

District 5 covers the eastern part of Montgomery, including Silver Spring, Wheaton, Olney and parts of southern Rockville. This is the first time that the area will have its own school board member, as part of a districting plan intended to bring more local representation to the board overseeing Montgomery's diverse school system.

But voters countywide may participate in the election, and, in interviews and candidates' forums, the District 5 candidates did not identify issues specific to their communities.

Brenneman, 41, lives in Olney and has two sons in elementary school. She is a former PTA president at Belmont Elementary and works part time as a reading teacher at Montgomery College.

"It isn't like I'm running against the present school board. I think my children are getting a good education," she said.

Brenneman said she thinks the board's main concern ought to be its budget and improving its lobbying strength with the County Council.

In addition, she said, she would like to see smaller class sizes, better guidance and career counseling, and more attention to recycling and other environmental issues. She said she favors greater collaboration with local industry, including through school "adoptions" by private businesses.

Buckner, 58, has two grown children and is an administrator at the National Library of Medicine. He has been active in the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and he wrote the first in what has become an annual, outside critique of standardized test scores of the county's minority students.

Saying that "the number one issue is funding the budget," Buckner proposed that the school board acquire legal authority to determine its own finances. Now, the board, like its counterparts throughout Maryland, gives a budget request each year to the County Council, which has the final say.

The change, which would require approval by the General Assembly, "is a long, uphill fight," he said. "But if our county is to expect our school board to provide leadership, they need the tools, and funding is one of the tools."

In addition, he said, his priorities include improving the performance of minority and female students, especially in math and science. He also is in favor of strengthened vocational education, student and teacher internships in private business, and extending all-day kindergarten classes countywide.

Gordon, 41, is a Silver Spring resident who has lived in Montgomery for 14 years. She has two daughters in the school system and has been a local PTA officer and a representative to Montgomery's PTA council. Since 1985, she has been a teacher's aide at William Tyler Page Elementary.

"I know what it is like to be in the classroom," she said. "That might be a perspective we haven't had {on the school board} for a long time."

Gordon said her priorities include "direct services to students and schools." In particular, she said, she would focus on the education of young children and on services to address the needs of Montgomery's increasingly diverse student body, including students who do not speak English.

She also cited a concern about the school budget, saying, "We are going to need additional sources of funding, maybe from growth and development." The County Council has considered and rejected development taxes twice in the past two years.