The Montgomery County Board of Education will publicly interview four finalists for an open seat on the board and then choose one of them in a meeting Saturday.

Seven people applied to fill the seat, which was vacated last month by Derwood dentist Henry Lee. Last week, board members trimmed the pool to four finalists: Mary T. Edwards, Philip S. Kauffman, Nancy Navarro and Leslie Karas Ridgway. All have children in the public school system and are active in their local school communities.

Whoever is chosen after the string of interviews, which begin at 9:15 a.m. at the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville and are open to the public, will be sworn into office Dec. 1 alongside the three board members elected Nov. 2.

The board member selected Saturday to join the eight-member panel will represent District 5, which covers an eastern swath of the county including Olney, Burtonsville, Brookeville and part of Silver Spring.

Lee held the position for only four months after being appointed by the board when Reginald M. Felton resigned because he was moving out of the area. Felton had been a member of the school board since 1994, and his term, which Lee's replacement will complete, lasts until 2006.

School board members said they were looking for a candidate who demonstrates a solid understanding of the issues facing the board and an eagerness to serve out the full remainder of the term. Lee resigned citing family concerns, a reason with which board President Sharon W. Cox (At Large) said she sympathized. At the time, Cox said the turnover would not be too disruptive on the board.

But, with the board in the middle of several long-term projects, consistency is now a top priority, said member Charles Haughey (At Large).

"We need someone committed to continuing the progress we're making to close the achievement gap, someone who understands the capital-needs issues of the school district," he said. "But I think one of the things I'm most looking for is a commitment to stay the course."

Three of the four finalists to fill the spot also applied for the position after Felton resigned.

Edwards, the PTSA president of Benjamin Banneker Middle School and a former substitute teacher in the Montgomery County school system, received Cox's vote in June. In her application, she said she had weighed the demands of the position with her family and decided she could take on the considerable time commitment.

Kauffman, a lawyer with the Department of Veterans Affairs, has been president of the William H. Farquhar Middle School PTA and a co-coordinator of the Blake cluster.

Rounding out the list of repeat finalists is Ridgway, an attorney at a Rockville law firm. Ridgway was the president of the Cresthaven Elementary School PTA and, like Kauffman, has been involved with the Montgomery County Council of PTAs.

The fourth finalist, Navarro, is president of the White Oak Middle School PTSA and co-founder of a local nonprofit concerned with the economic development of Latino and immigrant communities.