Paul L. Vance, the Montgomery County school system's second-in-command, said yesterday that he wants to become the next superintendent, but the school board hasn't decided how to proceed in picking a successor to Superintendent Harry Pitt.

"I intend to be a serious candidate," said Vance, ending speculation about whether he would apply for the job.

Vance, 59, has been considered a logical choice to succeed Pitt, who announced last month that he will retire in June.

As deputy superintendent, Vance is in charge of day-to-day management of the county's 160 schools.

Vance has been an administrator in the county for 13 years and has gained a reputation as a powerful, politically shrewd influence during four years as Pitt's deputy.

But Vance also has been mentioned as a possibility for the school superintendent's job in Baltimore, where Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke recently directed the school board to dismiss Superintendent Richard Hunter.

Yesterday, Vance said he had not spoken to anyone in Baltimore, where he worked as deputy superintendent for four years before being passed over for the superintendent's job in 1977.

But he did not rule out the possibility of also applying for the top position there, or in any other large school system that is looking for a new chief.

"I prefer to keep my options open," he said.

Vance said he told Montgomery's school board president, Blair Ewing, last Friday that he would be a candidate.

The board held a closed, three-hour meeting Wednesday night to consider whether to conduct a national search, and sources said afterward that most members said they favored the idea.

But with some members absent, the board postponed its decision until next week.

While most board members want to look over the field of potential candidates, some members are reluctant, at a time of financial stress, to incur the expense of a full-fledged search if they might hire an inside candidate.

Yesterday, Pitt said he would not endorse any candidate, but he praised Vance, saying, "he is an outstanding person. He has all the skills for the job."