D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, who has headed the city's public school system since 1981, has indicated that she will announce plans soon to resign her $85,000-a-year post to become an educational consultant, several school system and District government officials said yesterday.

The superintendent could not be reached for comment on the reports, but Janis Cromer, McKenzie's spokeswoman, said the 52-year-old superintendent "would not confirm or deny that she would be leaving soon."

"She does not want to mislead people," Cromer added. "She certainly does not plan to die in the job or retire."

Cromer said McKenzie told school administrators in a speech Thursday that "when she did {leave} she would tell the board first and her staff second, and she asked the {school} officers to help make it a smooth transition and allow her to exit with dignity."

Several sources said McKenzie, who began a three-year contract July 1, was uncertain whether to leave in the middle of the school year in January or wait until it ends in June, but they said she was tired of her high-pressure job.

Under her new contract, McKenzie can quit with 90 days' notice.

Before her contract renewal negotiations last winter, McKenzie indicated that she was uncertain whether she wished to stay as head of the school system. She said she was "examining my career pattern."

Later, she told the board she wanted only a one-year contract, but agreed to the customary three-year superintendent's term after the 90-day notice clause was inserted.

In an interview in June, McKenzie said: "You probably peak in a job in three to five years, and I'm over the five. I don't want to stay so long that the pace slows. I've done a lot of what I wanted to do. If you know you're slipping, you probably started before then."

McKenzie has served as D.C. superintendent longer than anyone since Carl Hansen, who quit after nine years in 1967. She succeeded Vincent E. Reed, now vice president for communications of The Washington Post, who resigned the superintendent's post after five years. McKenzie has held her job longer than any current superintendent in the area's major school systems.

An article in yesterday's Washington Times described McKenzie as "coy" but said she is expected to leave her post soon.

Cromer said the story was "basically correct" but disputed statements, attributed to a school board member, that McKenzie was "particularly discouraged" by the system's latest standardized achievement test scores, which fell after a new test was introduced.

Cromer also questioned the statement that McKenzie was upset over pending D.C. Council hearings on $3.5 million in fees paid to private lawyers hired by the school system to sue asbestos manufacturers.

"It's certainly not the case of any particular thing making {McKenzie} dissatisfied," Cromer said. "But there comes a time when anyone feels that you have done as much as you can possibly do and you do not want to overstay your usefulness."

According to the sources, McKenzie intends to remain in Washington as an education consultant, undertaking projects for foundations, businesses, federal agencies and educational organizations. During the last few years, she has rebuffed overtures from several other school systems.

"She undoubtedly wants out of the daily pressures and daily crises," said Ward 6 school board member Robert Boyd. "It's justified not wanting to hold your head in a propeller year after year . . . . I think she has something to contribute to the national discussion of education."