The long-squabbling D.C. Board of Education, currently the focus of proposals to shrink its size and change the way its members are chosen, has put off electing a new president because no candidate could draw the required majority support.

Members, who caucused privately Wednesday night for more than two hours, remained divided among three candidates: Benjamin Bonham (Ward 6), Tom Kelly (Ward 7) and Tonya Vidal Kinlow (At Large). The board recessed around midnight and will reschedule the vote for after the new year.

Outgoing President Wilma R. Harvey (Ward 1), who was removed during the summer in a 6 to 5 vote that was later reversed, said she could not remember a similar deadlock in her 14 years as a board member.

"We may have stayed till 2 or 3 in the morning, but we came out with a result," she said. "I just think it's real sad. . . . Our energies need to be focused on more than just the leadership issues that have engulfed this board for the last year."

The 11-member panel lost its power to run city schools three years ago and is struggling to prove to the D.C. financial control board that it is ready to regain control of the system.

Assuming the board elects a president in January, it may be the last time the head of the panel is chosen this way. The D.C. Council is weighing four bills to change the structure of the board, three of which would require that the president be elected citywide to a four-year term.

Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) last week proposed electing the president in a citywide vote, but his bill wouldn't alter the way the rest of the board is chosen. Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) this week proposed reducing the panel to seven members, three appointed by the mayor. The city's political wards would be paired up, with every two wards electing one representative.

Ambrose's proposal would have the board continue to elect its own president, but the panel would focus only on setting policy. The school superintendent would be hired and fired by the mayor.

Two bills--introduced by council members Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3)--were debated at a lengthy public hearing Nov. 29. Chavous wants to shrink the board to nine members--one from each ward and a president elected citywide. Patterson wants a five-member board, appointed by the mayor.

Most who testified at last month's hearing opposed shrinking the board, but many supported electing the president citywide.

Council staff members said council members will debate and vote on all the school board proposals next month. All of the bills but Orange's would require amending the city's Home Rule Charter, which would have to be approved by voters.