Rudolph F. Crew, who had emerged as the leading candidate to run the D.C. public school system, yesterday accepted the top schools job in Miami-Dade County.

Crew had met with D.C. Council and school board members over the weekend, leaving some with the impression that he was seriously considering the superintendent's job here.

"Of course we're disappointed," said Mirian Saez, a mayoral appointee to the school board. "We just basically lost. It's the palm trees over the monuments."

But Saez and a number of other officials said they were pleased with the three other finalists whose names have been forwarded by a search committee to a seven-member panel that includes school board members and city officials. That panel, known as the education collaborative, is to recommend one or more candidates to the school board, which will make the final decision.

Saez, a member of the collaborative, said the panel will begin to focus on the remaining choices, whom she described as "outstanding." Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), chairman of the council's education committee and a member of the collaborative, said he hopes the panel will make a recommendation within two weeks.

The other finalists are Carl A. Cohn, a former superintendent in Long Beach, Calif.; Stephen C. Jones, superintendent in Syracuse, N.Y.; and Candy Lee, a former airline executive. Jones said last week that he was not interested in the D.C. job, but Saez said she had not received word from the school board's search firm that he had withdrawn.

Crew, who served as chancellor of New York City schools from 1995 to 1999, did not return phone messages left at his Northern California office or with the school system in Miami.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said last week that he was working to bring Crew here to run the District's 64,200-student system. Williams was traveling in Italy yesterday.

Mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock said there were other strong candidates interested in the D.C. job.

Crew met with some D.C. Council and school board members Saturday night at a dinner at the home of board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz. On Sunday, Chavous and board member William Lockridge (District 4) showed Crew the campuses of a number of D.C. public schools, mostly east of the Anacostia River.

On Sunday night, Crew had dinner with Cafritz, Saez and Robin B. Martin, a mayoral appointee to the board.

Several council and board members who spoke with Crew said that they were favorably impressed and that momentum had been building behind his candidacy. But after Crew announced his decision yesterday, they said there were other good candidates.

"I'm confident we have other great people in our pool," said school board member Julie Mikuta (District 1). "We're going to have a great superintendent."

Lockridge said that the three remaining candidates are good but that he would prefer Jones or Cohn over Lee because of their experience as superintendent. "I would have liked to have seen Rudy Crew here, but I'm not disappointed because I know we have other qualified candidates that have shown improvements in their school districts," Lockridge said.

Crew had been in discussion for weeks with officials overseeing the Miami-Dade school system, the fourth largest in the country. During a specially called School Board meeting there yesterday, the board approved Crew's contract in a 7 to 2 vote.

The pact calls for a salary of $295,000 in his first year with "incentive pay" of up to $50,000. The contract is for four years, with a possible extension for two more. Starting in July 2009, Crew would be paid a salary of $360,000 and qualify for incentive pay of $80,000.

In the District, Williams had said officials were considering asking business leaders to contribute to a total compensation package as high as $600,000 the first year. Of that, about $350,000 would have been salary and bonuses.

In brief comments before the School Board in Miami yesterday, Crew made no mention of the D.C. job. "Nothing in my mind is more important than the children in this city," Crew told the board.

D.C. officials said they were unsure why Crew took the job in Miami. Chavous said Crew wanted to find the best "fit" for his next job and remain in the position for years.

Judith Rizzo, who was Crew's chief deputy both in New York City and in an earlier job he held in Tacoma, Wash., said, "My sense is he had some concerns with the governance issue in D.C. that might have had an impact on his decision."

Williams has proposed having the superintendent report directly to the mayor instead of the school board and changing the board's responsibilities. The council voted down the plan once but is scheduled to consider a modified version of it today.

District officials who met with Crew said he did not seem to be put off by the debate about school oversight.

"It didn't really frighten him," Lockridge said. "I'm really wondering what happened."

Staff writer Jay Mathews contributed to this report.

Former New York City schools chancellor Rudolph F. Crew had visited the District over the weekend. "We just basically lost. It's the palm trees over the monuments," one D.C. school board member said.