HAYWARD -- It was close, but ultimately no cigar was offered to the top contender in the latest search for someone to lead Hayward Unified schools.

Board members voted 3-2 last week to offer the job to Enrique Palacios, associate superintendent of business services with the Pittsburg school district.

But that vote "was contingent on a site visit and contract negotiations," and on Thursday, board President Lisa Brunner swung her vote the other way, aligning with trustees Luis Reynoso and William McGee to go no further, effectively ending round two of the search for a new superintendent.

Brunner praised Palacios' business acumen and called him a "very impressive" candidate who would have been a "very unique choice."

"He has a very strong background in business, and is a very organized person in that respect," she said. "So it's not about him; it's about a good fit. I want a superintendent to be here a long time, and I don't want to come back later and say, 'This didn't quite work out.' "

Trustees Jesus Armas and Maribel Heredia were disappointed in the final vote, and said Palacios' background made him a good choice.

"It was clear that his professional career is on the financial side and not instructional," Armas said. "He never tried to circumvent that. But he always said to us that instruction drives the budget, and not the reverse."

He added that they recently appointed an associate superintendent to focus on academics, and he "wanted to make sure we had someone with leadership abilities, who speaks with an effective voice. And I think he can do that."

Heredia said Palacios is "what Hayward needs right now," and that her colleague may have been swayed by "some emails and rumors that did not meet a high standard of evidence."

"This was a person head and shoulders above the rest, but because of inexperience and the steep learning curve of new board members, we missed an opportunity," she said. "The kids are the ones who are going to suffer."

The board will regroup with consultants and interim Superintendent Janis Duran to discuss how to move forward.

Duran announced her retirement in January and planned to leave at the end of the school year, but agreed to serve during the search for a replacement.

"Mrs. Duran is an exceptional superintendent, but she committed to be here on an interim basis," Armas said. "It's incumbent on the board to get past an interim superintendent and move the district forward. We need to make sure we can come together."

Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi. Read his blog at IBAbuzz.com/hayword.