As if Pennsylvania wasn’t having enough problems with its education system, last week brought the resignation of the state’s Acting Education Secretary William Harner after allegations that he had an inappropriate encounter with a subordinate in a previous job. Although Governor Tom Corbett didn’t specify the reason why he demanded Harner’s resignation, according to Angela Couloumbis of the Philadelphia Inquirer, several sources stepped forward and confirmed that the issue was an email Harner sent to a colleague.
In the email sent earlier this year, Harner asked a male administrator who was on vacation how he looked in a Speedo. After returning from vacation, the administrator filed a complaint.
Harner, a retired Army officer turned educator, could not be reached for comment. Before his firing Monday, he was awaiting Senate confirmation.
Earlier Monday, Harner visited Cheltenham Township, where he spoke with teachers and school officials about, among other subjects, what inspired him as an educator. He made no mention of his impending resignation.
In a statement posted online Monday night by The Sentinel of Carlisle, Harner said he was proud of his accomplishments, adding: “It remains my understanding and belief that any complaints made during my tenure as superintendent were fully investigated and no matter was ever determined to be of merit or legal consequence.”
Leaks aside, both Corbett and the officials at the Cumberland Valley School District declined to talk about the incident or the resignation, with Corbett’s spokeswoman Lynn Lawson tersely replying that the decision was a personnel matter when asked for a comment.
The last 15 months have been difficult on Corbett who, in addition to other high-profile departures lost 6 cabinet members just as he’s working to improve his position vis-a-vis Pennsylvania voters ahead of the 2014 Election Day.
Corbett named Harner in mid-May to replace former Education Secretary Ron Tomalis. At the time, The Inquirer reported that the reasons for Tomalis’ departure included behind-the-scenes tension between him and some members of the governor’s inner circle.
Before joining the administration, Harner, a one-time Philadelphia School District administrator who grew up in Cheltenham, held the top job in Cumberland Valley, one of the Harrisburg area’s largest districts, for nearly five years.
He has an extensive background in public school administration, and his career has had its share of controversy.
Harner ran the Greenville County, S.C., school system from 2000 until 2004, when he resigned before his contract expired. According to newspaper accounts at the time, he was criticized by school board members and others for a controversial timber sale, in which he raised money to start a lacrosse program by selling trees from lots being cleared for district construction projects. He also clashed with parents over changes in school schedules.