The Prince George's school board should conduct a national search to replace outgoing Superintendent John A. Murphy and avoid showing preference to minority candidates, according to a large majority of those who spoke last night at the first public hearing on the search.

Acceptance of Murphy's resignation Feb. 7 has provoked debate on the advisability of making a national search while the county faces a fiscal crisis. The county NAACP's demand for a black superintendent has added to the debate.

"Our search cannot be limited to the county if we say that we want to have the best superintendent possible," said Franklin Jackson, a parent who represented the Citizens for Improving Prince George's County.

A national search employing a consultant could cost more than $50,000, but school board members said they could economize by doing the work themselves, as they did in 1984 when they chose Murphy, who is to leave June 30.

"In the long run, the cost {of a national search} would be well worth it," said the Rev. Norris Sydnor, representing the Interfaith Advisory Council. "I think everyone agrees that our children are worth it. They deserve the best," Sydnor said.

Johnson and Sydnor appeared representative of the more than two dozen parents and community leaders who spoke at the hearing held by the school board at Friendly High School.

Others, however, emphasized costs in asserting that the board is in no position to make a nationwide search.

"It seems to me at this point that there are sufficiently qualified people within Prince George's County," said county council member Sue V. Mills, who attended the hearing but did not address the board.

Administrators viewd as possible candidates include Deputy Superintendent Edward M. Felegy, a 31-year employee; Louise F. Waynant, associate superintendent in charge of instruction; Jerome Clark, associate superintendent in charge of personnel; Sterling Marshall, principal of Suitland High School; and assistant area superintendents Joseph Hairston and Jesse Freeman.

There appeared to be a consensus among speakers that the board should reject the demand of the county NAACP that the next superintendent must be black.

State's Attorney Alex Williams, speaking on behalf of the Prince George's County Alliance of Black Elected Officials, encouraged the board to avoid focusing on race.

"The alliance is saying that the best way for the board to proceed is not to focus on race, but rather focus on the needs of the school system," said Williams, who listed qualifications the alliance wants the board to consider. "We can't allow the school system to get caught up in a racially bifurcating issue at such an important juncture," he said.

Rosalind Johnson, president of the Prince George's County Federation of Teachers, said, "If an African American is hired . . . but is unable to bring the community together, then that would undercut his ability to serve as a role model for the majority of our students."

NAACP officials who attended the meeting defended their position, saying they were not asking the board to lower its standards in hiring a black candidate.

"We are not asking the board to hire just any black superintendent," said Cora Rice, president of the county NAACP, who attended the meeting but did not address the board. " . . . All we are asking for is a qualified black superintendent." She said almost two-thirds of the county's students are black.

The school board will conduct a second public hearing at 7 p.m. tomorrow at High Point High School in Beltsville. Board members will meet early next week to decide how the new superintendent will be selected.