After spending nearly $20,000 and eight months searching the nation for a new school superintendent, the Montgomery County school board has decided to offer a contract to the man who has been doing the job since June.

Edward Andrews, the popular interim superintendent, was summoned to a closed-door school board session late Thursday night and asked to take the $60,000-a-year position. He responded that he was uncertain about the offer, but would probably take it if the board could not find any other acceptable candidates to lead the 100,000-student system.

"I really don't want the job unless you can assure me there is no one else identified in your search who can lead the Montgomery County school system," Andrews reportedly told the board.

The 44-year-old administrator accepted the job on a temporary basis last summer after the forced departure of former superintendent Charles M. Bernardo. The board is under a state deadline to hire a superintendent by Feb. 29.

Andrews, who has repeatedly said during the last year that he does not want the job, declined to comment yesterday.

The last minute bid to get Andrews, however, has already angered one school board member who challenged the timing of the contract offer. Joseph Barse, the only one to abstain from the 6-to-0 vote to offer Andrews the contract, yesterday criticized his fellow board members for "truncating the selection process."

Barse accused board members of bringing Austin, Tex., school superintendent Jack Davidson to the county last week for a round of interviews only to make Andrews look good. "He (Davidson) was a straw man who, next to Andrews, will be found wanting."

Davidson, the finalist among 80 outside applicants for the job, spent four days in Montgomery County. He left Thursday morning for Austin after a hectic round of interviews by a number of special-interest groups.

Although Barse now believes Davidson never had a chance, school board president Daryl Shaw insisted yesterday that the board planned to offer the Texan a contract if Andrews turned it down.

Yesterday, Barse lashed out at Andrews, saying "the public has a right to know. That meeting had the smell of being rigged."

Barse said Andrews had the school board members "crawling to him."

"Ed, if you're a candidate," Barse said, "stand up like a man, throw your hat in the ring and say you're willing to be evaluated the way every other candidate has been."

The applicants who responded to the advertisements placed in publications like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times were first screened by a Chicago consultant hired by the school board. The consultant, Harold T. Webb, was paid $11,500 to pare the list of 80 initial applicants down to 12 names that were submitted to the board.

School board members visited the home districts of three candidates and extensively interviewed at least three more applicants before inviting Davidson -- the finalist -- to visit Montgomery County.

Davidson and his wife stayed at the Marriott Hotel in Bethesda. The cost to the school board of airfare and lodging was approximately $1,000. The total cost of the nationwide search has already exceeded the original $5,000 alloted by the board.

"Now Davidson will think we're playing games with him," said board president Shaw, angered that the details of the closed-door meeting had been revealed. "We'll lose both Andrews and Davidson now."

Shaw said the board had invited Davidson to Montgomery County "in good faith" but had been pressured by teachers and staff members to offer Andrews the job. "I had to know. We all had to know," said Shaw. "Things are running so smoothly now. People are always afraid of change."

But school board member Barse said yesterday that "popping in someone at this stage who never went through the screening process will damage our reputation nationwide."

Meanwhile, said a source close to Andrews, the amicable administrator is said to be torn by the decision.

Andrews has repeatedly announced in recent months that he does not want to sacrifice his family life to the morning-to-midnight schedule that the superintendent's job demands.

"On the one hand, there are the grandchildren who live with him," said the associate. "On the other hand, there are 12,000 school employes and 100,000 children who say they need him.He doesn't know what to do."