Jerry Weast has accepted the four-year position as superintendent of Montgomery County schools, a post that could come with a salary and benefits package worth up to $225,000, Board of Education officials said yesterday.

Pending the settlement of a contract, Weast would move from being chief administrator of North Carolina's third-largest school district, with 94 schools and 61,000 students, to superintendent of Maryland's second-largest system, with 185 schools and nearly 128,000 students.

He also would become the top earner among superintendents in the Washington area, with a compensation agreement that includes salary, health insurance, a car and other benefits, such as a housing allowance, school officials said.

Board members, in a special public session last night, voted unanimously to approve Weast as their choice for superintendent. Board President Reginald M. Felton (Northeastern County) said he hoped a contract would be completed and signed in the next two days. Maryland School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick must confirm Weast's appointment.

"He's got a national reputation in terms of programs, and he's committed to student excellence," Felton said. "He's an innovative guy, a real asset. And we have unanimous agreement on him from the board. That's a rare thing for most boards these days."

Weast, superintendent of the Guilford County school system since 1993, currently makes about $190,000, including salary and benefits, and is one of the highest-paid officials in North Carolina.

By comparison, the salary and benefits of Montgomery County Superintendent Paul L. Vance are worth approximately $180,000.

Weast, 51, a native of Kansas, has won national recognition for revamping early childhood education, putting more teachers and resources in lower-performing schools, raising test scores and making teachers more accountable.

Felton and other board members met with Weast and his wife, Linda, until late Monday night at a Washington area hotel. Although the board made him an offer at that time, Weast did not formally accept until yesterday afternoon.

Board members spent much of Monday driving the Weasts around the county, lunching at a French restaurant in Bethesda, showing the couple various neighborhoods and hearing more of Weast's views. Weast declined to be interviewed until the contract was finalized.

"He's straightforward, a straight shooter, a strong leader. He wants to make a difference and believes in the individualization of education," said board member Stephen N. Abrams (At Large). "He's going to take us to the next level with new approaches. We're talking world class--national model."

School board members Mona M. Signer (Rockville-Potomac) and Beatrice B. Gordon (At Large) said they are traveling to Greensboro today to interview Weast's colleagues and community leaders and to see some of the programs Weast instituted there.

The board has come under fire for keeping the public out of the selection process and for keeping secret the identity of Weast and the other candidate recently interviewed, Cheryl Wilhoyte, who works for the Edison Project, a New York-based private management company that takes over and runs struggling public schools.

The school board has scheduled small groups of parents, educators and business and community leaders to meet with Weast on July 12. The public will be invited to meet him that night. But that plan hasn't quelled criticism.

"Suppose we meet with him, and we don't like him?" asked Wayne Whigham, Seneca Valley High School principal and outgoing president of the principal's union. "Why waste our time?"

Guilford County Board Chairwoman Susan Mendenhall said Weast's program to raise teacher standards, known as HELP, or Helping Evaluation Lift Performance, brought standing-room only crowds at national conventions.

"HELP identified teachers who were not performing well, tried to give them the help they needed, and if they didn't take it, they were out," Mendenhall said. "He had the ability to solve a tough problem, and he took a lot of grief for that."

That grief came primarily from teachers. Weast eliminated 65 "low-performing" teachers within the first few years on the job.

"Our attorneys used to say the HELP program is designed to help you right out of a job," said Maynard Hyler, of the North Carolina Association of Educators. "There won't be much crying down here when he leaves."

Superintendents' Contracts

Jerry Weast, the new Montgomery County school superintendent, is negotiating a contract with the Board of Education. Officials say his combined salary and benefits could be worth up to $225,000.

District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman

Annual base salary: $150,000

Other benefits and compensation: Eligible for annual performance bonus of unspecified amount. Car and driver for work only. Receives a $9,000 car allowance for use of her own car for school business on nights and weekends. Life and health insurance coverage. Annual retirement annuity of $15,000.

Fairfax Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech

Annual base salary: $159,000

Other benefits and compensation: Automobile, life insurance equal to three times his salary, long-term disability and health insurance coverage. At the end of each year, the school board credits $8,000 to a deferred compensation account established on his behalf. Salary could increase to $175,000.

Prince George's Superintendent Iris T. Metts

Annual base salary: $160,000

Other benefits and compensation: Automobile. Eligible for annual bonuses of up to $30,000, tied to performance reviews

Loudoun Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III

Annual base salary: $120,000

Other benefits and compensation: Two and one half percent of his annual salary is placed in a tax-sheltered annuity.

Montgomery Superintendent Paul L. Vance

Annual base salary: $155,000

Other benefits and compensation: Automobile, health insurance and annual contributions to a retirement annuity, worth about $9,000 annually.

Prince William Superintendent Edward L. Kelly

Annual base salary: $119,995

Other benefits and compensation: Automobile. No bonuses or incentives.

CAPTION: Jerry Weast is negotiating a contract that could pay $225,000 a year.