Fairfax County School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane said last night that he is a finalist for the highest public education post in Texas.

Although the list of the top candidates for state education commissioner will not be released until next week, Spillane confirmed that he was invited earlier in the day to be interviewed Jan. 19 or 20 by the Texas Board of Education.

"I'm always interested in listening," Spillane said. "It's very flattering."

Prince George's County Superintendent John A. Murphy, who has been conducting a highly visible though unsuccessful national job search for months, was among the top 20 candidates considered, two Texas board members said.

Murphy said last night that he hasn't spoken with anyone from the board, and that he didn't know if he was among the finalists.

Board member Bob Aikin said he would not be surprised to see both Spillane and Murphy in the final group. "Both of them look very good on paper and we'd like to see a little more of them," he said.

The latest developments reflect the growing exodus of area school chiefs. The superintendents in the four largest districts are either leaving or being considered for other jobs, including the District's Andrew E. Jenkins, who was fired as superintendent in November, and Montgomery County's Harry Pitt, who plans to retire in June.

Spillane, who was runner-up for the chancellorship of New York City schools in September 1989, arrived in Fairfax from Boston in 1985, and leads a 130,000-student school district with a $900 million annual budget, the largest in the Washington area and 10th largest in the nation.

The Texas board is expected to announce its selection on Jan. 20. The nominee must then be approved by Gov. Ann Richards and confirmed by the state Senate.

The current commissioner, W.N. Kirby, will retire at the end of the month. Kirby is paid $116,590, but board members said the salary for the next commissioner is negotiable.