A new computerized placement service called School Match offered by an Ohio firm for under $100 offers a relatively inexpensive way for people who are relocating to find the best schools for their children and the most desirable areas to live.

The program, the brainchild of William Bainbridge, a former school superintendent in Ohio, and Steven Sundre, a former college professor, involves answering 22 questions, including how far home buyers want to live from their workplace as well as what they expect from a school system. The home buyers mail the questionnaire back to Bainbridge and Sundre's firm, Public Priorities System Inc., in Westerville, Ohio, and the firm runs the answers through a computer data base that has information on 15,000 public school systems and 14,000 private schools across the country.

Customers receive a report that lists up to 20 school districts in whichever community they are interested in and compares how well each district satisfies the home buyers' criteria. The report also gives certain demographic information about the surrounding neighborhoods, such as the supporting tax base and the number of households with children.

"It's merely another way to address a long list of concerns home buyers have," said Herman Methfessel, vice president and general manager of the Virginia division of Long & Foster Realtors, which is offering the program in the Washington area. "People with children always ask where the best schools are."

Although numerous educational consultants provide similar services for particular regions of the country, School Match is the first service to offer a public and private school screening service on a nationwide basis, according to Liz Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Realtors.

The School Match service costs $97.50, substantially less than other educational consultants charge. One such firm, Ethna Hopper Associates, a Washington consultant, charges $400 initially and $125 for each subsequent hour to meet with parents to find suitable schools for their children.

However, unlike regional consulting firms, Public Priorities does not compare individual public schools for clients, only school districts. That makes the service less useful for people moving to the Washington area, which has a small number of relatively large school districts, unlike other areas of the country, which have school districts for each town or area. The Chicago area, for instance, has 267 different public school districts.

However, the program does provide information about individual private schools, Sundre said.

Mayme Mitcham, vice president of employe relocation services for Moran, Stahl & Boyer, a New York firm that specializes in arranging corporate moves and uses School Match, said that the program also can help people select the best areas in which to buy or rent a home.

"Property values are often connected to the quality of the surrounding schools. If you're in an area with excellent schools, then your home will be attractive to people with children. It boosts the desirability of your house" when it's put back up for sale, she said.

Ed Ilgen, U.S. relocation manager for Hewlett Packard Co. of Palo Alto, Calif., also said that demographic information in the reports about surrounding neighborhoods pinpoints more desirable areas in which to live. "The primary purpose is to find the right school district, but there is the side benefit of giving some very good indications of where to live," he said.

Methfessel said the program doesn't constitute "steering," an illegal practice of directing people away from certain neighborhoods because of racial or economic factors. Sundre said, "Our understanding of steering is that it occurs when a recommendation is made based on opinion, not fact. Our service is a factually based information service. The only people making choices are the family members themselves," based upon information in the report, he said.

"School Match is a screening tool to assist families, but it is by no means a substitute for more extensive scrutiny," he said.