The one local candidate among six finalists for Prince George's County school superintendent is drawing mixed support from county leaders, who question whether her long-standing school and political ties would help her lead the system or stymie reforms.

Jacqueline F. Brown, a Howard County school administrator, lives in Mitchellville, once worked for the Prince George's school system and was the campaign treasurer for County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) during his first run for office in 1994.

Brown emerged from the first round of interviews as one of the top two candidates for superintendent, along with Delaware Secretary of Education Iris T. Metts, sources close to the search have said. The other finalists are John Thompson, superintendent of Tulsa schools; Patricia A. Daniel, former superintendent of Hartford, Conn., schools; Roger Reese, chief financial officer of Baltimore city schools; and Ronald A. LeGrand, Nabisco's director of minority relations and business development. By law, the school board must select a replacement for outgoing Superintendent Jerome Clark by July 1.

Brown's candidacy has split county leadership into two camps: those who say her connections could help the schools gain support and money from government and business leaders, and those who believe her relationship with Curry could give him unprecedented influence in the school system.

County Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) says he would not support Brown's appointment.

"One has to be concerned whether [Curry's administration] would be running the public schools of Prince George's County," said Hendershot, a former school board member who said Brown was considered for the superintendent's job four years ago.

But Beatrice P. Tignor, who ran for county executive against Curry, said that Brown would make a good superintendent and that her ties to Curry would not compromise her decision-making. "She's a very objective person," Tignor said. "Just because she was Wayne's treasurer shouldn't be a problem."

Brown, reached last night, said the criticism of her "is a non-issue. It is a straw man. I have not worked for the administration. I was treasurer, then I resigned and returned to my personal life."

By comparison, Metts said in an interview yesterday that she has no county ties. Metts, who has been Delaware's top education official since 1997, said she thinks she can help improve student achievement.

"I am disappointed there has not been more progress in terms of student achievement" in Prince George's, Metts said. "I believe in a system looking at test data and connecting it to curriculum improvement."

Metts grew up in Richmond and worked in its schools for 23 years before becoming an assistant superintendent in Evanston, Ill. She was superintendent of the Christina School District in Delaware from 1990 to 1997.

She was criticized after telling Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) in an address once that she supported Delaware's use of slot machines to raise revenue for schools. Yesterday, she said those comments were in jest. "I am not a proponent of slots," she said. "I do not go around Delaware proclaiming my love for them."

Brown, the Howard system's coordinator of academic support services, is in charge of alternative education for disruptive students, the Black Student Achievement Program, and family and community outreach.

Howard School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said Brown has set up an after-school tutoring program in four low-income housing developments and has instituted pilot programs to help low-performing students.

"Jackie probably knows more about underachieving students than do most people," Hickey said yesterday. "Not that she's worked any miracle cures . . . but she has made progress."

Brown was previously an associate professor of counseling psychology at Bowie State University. She holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Cincinnati and a doctorate in human development from the University of Maryland.

"Jackie Brown has integrity and is a trusted person, someone that you can have confidence in and depend on," said developer Bill Chesley, who knows Brown and is close to Curry.

Staff writer Linda Perlstein contributed to this report.