They don't have to pound signs into lawns or shake hands at polling places. The five finalists for the Montgomery County Board of Education seat being vacated next month by longtime member Reginald M. Felton needed only to apply.

The board narrowed the number of applicants for the District 5 seat, which covers eastern Silver Spring, Burtonsville, Olney and Brookeville, from 17 to five, but hasn't set a date to fill it:

* Mary T. Edwards, a homemaker from Silver Spring who works with the National Center of Therapeutic Riding, Paint Branch High School soccer teams and the Benjamin Banneker Middle School PTSA.

* Philip S. Kauffman, a Department of Veterans Affairs attorney from Olney who is active with the county and Blake cluster PTAs and educational issues in northeastern Montgomery.

* Henry Lee, a dentist from Derwood who has served on many school system and county committees and advisory boards.

* Leslie Karas Ridgway, a civil attorney from Silver Spring with a long history in the Cresthaven Elementary School PTA.

* Ruby A. Rubens, an educational consultant and former school system ombudsman who held several county jobs in housing and as special assistant to former county executive Neal Potter.

In individual public interviews Tuesday, the finalists were asked about their perceptions of a board member's role, relevant civic and professional experience, thoughts on representing District 5 while also representing the county as a whole, understanding of the time commitment required to serve and priorities they hoped to address.

The board members have not set a specific date to choose the replacement for Felton, who is moving out of District 5, although they plan to decide in time for his departure July 1, officials said. The term for the seat expires in 2006.

Candidates explained some of their priorities this week in brief interviews with The Post.

Ridgway suggested that schools that receive priority in educational resources because of the poverty of their student populations also might receive priority in facilities resources. She would also like to see the board consider financial incentives for teachers to stay in such schools. And she would like the board to be more open to the community. "I think the board goes out of its way to be available and participate, but there's some sense that more accessibility would be a good thing," she said.

Lee, who lost to Charles Haughey in the 2002 board race, feels that way about the school system as a whole, he said. "For some reason, there's kind of a disconnect," he said. "They don't seem to give the impression that they're providing a service. . . . The school system has to become more aware that customer service is a huge part of their charge."

Lee also said -- and Kaufman concurred -- that the system must come up with ways to help principals and make the job appealing enough that more people want it.

Rubens said it's important to focus on middle schools. "My strong issue would be to sustain the early childhood initiatives that have already been started but to ensure that the youngsters beyond second grade are not allowed to slip back and to shore up our middle schools," she said.

Kauffman and Edwards said they look forward to seeing the school system's upcoming work on curriculum reform for middle schools. "It's becoming apparent these are the most important three years," Edwards said.

"There is a sense that middle school is the lost years and that the curriculum is not where it should be," Kauffman said.

Edwards would like to see expanded after-school programs; Kauffman suggested the offerings be more consistent across schools.

Several candidates spoke of the need to get parents more involved with their children's education.