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Published: Tuesday, 8/27/2013

Corbett drops choice to lead Pa. schools

Harner almost became TPS superintendent in 2007

BY KAREN LANGLEY AND BILL TOLAND
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Harner Harner
THE BLADE/ERIC SUMBERG Enlarge | Buy This Photo

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett on Monday forced out his nominee to lead the state Department of Education, William Harner, three months after the selection was announced.

A spokesman for the governor declined to say why Mr. Corbett asked for the resignation of Mr. Harner, who had served as acting secretary of education since June 1, other than to say, “It is entirely a personnel matter.”

Aides to the top two Republican senators, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati and Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, said the administration had indicated the governor will nominate Carolyn Dumaresq, a former superintendent and teachers’ union official who is acting education secretary, to the position.

But the governor’s communications director, Lynn Lawson, said no decision had been made about a nomination.

“It hasn’t yet been determined if she will be the nominee or remain in acting status,” she said.

Mr. Harner, 56, of Carlisle, Pa., almost became superintendent of Toledo Public Schools.

In February, 2007, the Toledo Board of Education unanimously chose Mr. Harner as its next superintendent, but contract talks with him broke down when he made it known he wanted to live outside the school district.

A majority of the school board said the superintendent should live within the system’s boundaries.

Mr. Harner told The Blade during the talks that he had agreed to a lower-than-desired salary in exchange for permission to live outside the TPS district so his 16-year-old daughter could attend Sylvania Northview High School, the only school in the area that he said would meet her need for advanced placement courses to continue in an international baccalaureate program.

He withdrew from contract talks in April of that year, and the board approved a contract instead with John Foley, a longtime Toledo Public Schools administrator.

Mr. Harner previously served five years as superintendent of the Cumberland Valley School District in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, citing an unnamed school district official, reported Monday that the school board had voted 7-2 in a closed-door session to not retain Mr. Harner when his contract expired June 30.

The newspaper described a human resources matter that was confirmed to the Block News Alliance by a source in state government with knowledge of the situation.

The government source said that Mr. Harner’s troubles began in January or February, when an employee of the school district, while vacationing, received an email from Mr. Harner asking how the employee looked in a Speedo swimsuit.

That email, according to the source, led to a complaint to the district’s human resources office, which in turn led to the school board hiring outside counsel to investigate the matter.

That outside counsel turned up more than a dozen other complaints about Mr. Harner, most involving comments he made in poor taste.

His personality “rubbed people the wrong way,” the source said. The school board’s behind-closed-doors inquiry ran concurrent to the Corbett administration’s own vetting.

On May 15, Mr. Corbett announced that his education secretary, Ron Tomalis, would leave the department to become an adviser to the governor on higher education, and that he would nominate Mr. Harner as secretary.

Mr. Harner, a West Point graduate, had a 20-year military career before turning to the field of education, according to the governor’s office.

He served as a middle school principal and superintendent in South Carolina and as deputy chief executive officer of the Philadelphia school district.

Sometime this month, the source said, the Corbett administration caught wind of the fact that the Cumberland Valley School Board had held a closed-door vote against renewing Mr. Harner’s contract.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Karen Langley and Bill Toland are reporters for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Karen Langley at:

klangley@post-gazette.com,

or 1-717-787-2141.



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