THE D.C. BOARD of Education faces an unusually demanding year. Its first task is to select a school superintendent with the talent to cope with the severe fiscal crisis in the District. Meanwhile, it must balance the tremendous needs of the city's students against the almost certain demand for further budget reductions.

To balance its budget, for example, the school system must cut spending by $26 million before the end of the fiscal year. On top of that, board members have now received an advisory from Mayor Dixon asking for $10 million in further cuts to help reduce the city's overall fiscal shortfall.

So this will be a trying year in which to select a new superintendent. Sixteen other cities, three times the usual number, are also searching for superintendents this year. Most are able to offer more in salary and benefits than is the District. The unusual number of superintendent searches may mean that the District will have to consider administrators from other fields.

Fortunately, the D.C. board at this point appears to be pursuing its search in an expeditious and considered fashion. An administrative search firm, hired by the board, has a deadline of Jan. 15 for receiving resumes from interested applicants.

Another encouraging sign of change was the unanimous vote by the school board to install Ward 2 member R. David Hall as its new president. A unified board, which can rally around a decent candidate for superintendent and allow that person once installed to be responsible for day-to-day management of the system without undue interference, is vital to the interests of D.C. students.