Twelve residents of Ward 4 -- three administrators, a lawyer, a political scientist, program manager, teacher, painter, law enforcement officer, federal legislative liaison and two women who call themselves professional mothers -- are vying for that ward's school board seat in the November general election.

All say they are the best qualified to fill the seat of three-term board member Linda W. Cropp, who is running for an at-large position on the D.C. Council. They are competing for the votes of the 39,097 registered voters in a solidly middle-class ward known for its intense interest in education.

The number of candidates means that the winner may get into office with about 3,500 votes or fewer if there is a light voter turnout.

Patent attorney Philip G. Hampton II called the campaign "exhausting . . . . With 11 other people running for the same seat, it makes you not take any voter for granted," he said. "This time every vote really does count."

Most of the candidates have strong opinions about the D.C. school system and are quick to point to the problems of a high dropout rate and low performance on standardized tests.

Kevin Dennis, a D.C. General Hospital drug abuse program administrator, points to the hefty school budget.

"We spend half a billion dollars on education and we get students who are not performing well on comprehensive basic skills," he said.

E. Ned Sloan, a legislative liaison for the Agriculture Department, said of the dropout rate, "If 40 to 50 percent of General Motors' products were defective, they would be bankrupt."

The candidates seem to have gotten to know each other and their views from the two to three forums they attend each week.

Last week, Art Lloyd, who is a deputy U.S. marshal, political scientist Kelvin W. Young and Dennis -- happened to meet and compared notes on upcoming forums. Each drew out his calendar and crossed off or scribbled in dates and times.

Young boasted he already was so well-known by school board members that he would not have to introduce himself when he wins.

"I'm not sure that is something to brag about," Lloyd said.

Whoever wins the seat will join a board scarred by confrontation with Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins over the administration's difficulty counting enrolled students. An independent auditor said last week that several years of computer tapes had been erased and other records were in disarray.

The school board recently voted not to renew Jenkins's contract, which expires next year. But there is the possibility of another vote when new board members are sworn in.

Of the Ward 4 candidates, only Department of Human Services painter Dennis L. Fitch and C.B. Griffin, president of Save Our Youth America, said they thought Jenkins's contract should be renewed.

Fitch, who calls himself the race's only blue-collar candidate, said, "I am always for someone who is in the system."

Griffin defended Jenkins, saying, "I am very much in support of his mission."

Nathaniel "Nate" Sims, a program manager for the Department of Public Works, said it was difficult to judge Jenkins's performance because the board held closed meetings when evaluating his work. "In fairness to everyone, the board needs to present a clear policy to the superintendent and has to set standards and make them public," he said.

The question is an open one also for Dennis, Lloyd, C&P Telephone Co. administrator Sandra Butler-Truesdale and stay-at-home mother Sehon Waheed. All said that to judge Jenkins's abilities, they needed more information.

Hampton said the question is moot because the "old board is working very hard to make sure he is gone."

Those favoring a new person in the superintendent's office are Sloan, Young, D.C. schoolteacher Lee S. Manor and Priscilla Arlene Gay, who describes herself a professional mother.

"Those who see the stagnancy are most vocal about his {Jenkins} going," Gay said. "Those who are less tuned into the system itself say he has done a wonderful job. It is about a 50-50 division."

Manor said it was no longer possible for Jenkins to administer the school system because his mistakes "left a lot of bitter taste, and he cannot satisfy anyone now."

Candidates gave mixed reviews to Jenkins's proposal to put more emphasis in the curriculum on the achievements of black Americans and African culture in world history.

Young gave the proposal a "qualified yes," as did most candidates, but expressed concern that such an education could hurt students seeking jobs later.

"The private sector is Eurocentric," he said. "You won't get a job on K Street if you show up wearing a dashiki."

Butler-Truesdale said she supported the curriculum change because "it is important for black young people to know their heritage." Like most of the candidates, she said a new curriculum should not exclude any culture.

"We are all human beings first . . . . I like to think in terms of humancentric," Waheed said.