RESIDENTS of Prince William County haven't exactly been jostling for seats at the meet-the-candidates nights around their neighborhoods, but politicians and voters alike insist that's not a reliable measure of the interest level in this rapidly changing land of two-income households, overcrowded schools and growing traffic problems. Though not every county contest offers a sharp contrast in candidates' views, their approaches to growth are increasingly under scrutiny. Perhaps the most important ballot decision is not a choice between candidates but a $44.89-million bond referendum to finance the construction of a high school, a middle school, two elementary schools and an addition to an existing elementary school. Anyone who looks at the school enrollments -- not to mention the projections for the next decade -- can see the importance of a "yes" vote for all of the school proposals.

Between 1980 and the last school year, enrollment has increased by more than 3,350 students; this year, enrollment is up 1,281 over last year. The enrollment at 13 schools exceeds the permanent capacities of the buildings -- and all around the county there are trailers as well as other makeshift facilities in use as classrooms. It is no way to be educating the county's young. The bond issue is critical.

As for the candidates, one of the more noteworthy contests is in the Occoquan District, where Democrat Kathleen K. Seefeldt, a member of the seven-member board of supervisors since 1976 and its chairman for six years, is facing Republican challenger Gregory Cebula, a newcomer to elective politics. Mrs. Seefeldt has won national honors and regional praise for her contributions to local planning and has been a valuable leader in efforts to accommodate controlled growth. Her expertise should not be lost to the county board.

In the Gainesville District, Republican incumbent G. Anthony Guiffre is being challenged by Democrat Robert L. Cole. Mr. Guiffre seems to oppose the growth of almost anything; Mr. Cole favors attracting business before houses. Absent a supporter of more balance, Mr. Guiffre may be the better bet. In the Neabsco District, incumbent Democrat John D. Jenkins is unopposed. In the Dumfries District, incumbent Democrat Edwin C. King, who won his big victory in the primary, has run well against Republican-backed independent Norma Pandazides. In the Coles District, independent Terrence Spellane's understanding of county-wide approaches to growth makes him a stronger candidate than either Republican Theresa A. Barratt or independent Denis Catalano. In the Woodbridge District, Republican Ella Shannon and independent Edward Rodriguez seem to have more understanding of growth issues than does Democrat Hilda M. Barg. In the Brentsville District, it's a tossup: Republican William J. Becker and Democrat Norborne P. Beville agree on most issues, favoring controlled growth, the school bond issue and cooperation with developers to help pay for roads. Both are strong candidates.